Equal Pay Law Has Trouble Sticking - Girls Week

By Mark Falanga

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The scene: Gotham City. Batman and Robin are tied up and helpless in a room with a bomb that’s set to go off at any moment. All hope seems lost. Suddenly, Batgirl swoops in and the dynamic duo is relieved to see her. However, before she tries to diffuse the bomb, she demands something from Batman…equal pay. She says that there’s no reason that Robin makes more than her, since they both do the same job for the same employer.

This was the basis of a public service announcement from 1972, which highlighted the then 9-year-old Equal Pay Law, which guaranteed equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. This was the precursor to the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guaranteed non-discrimination by employers based on religion, race, sex, or national origin. So it would seem that armed with these two laws, equal pay for women was just about guaranteed. Sadly, 40 years later, that still doesn’t seem to be the case.

According to Time Magazine, on average, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. What’s worse is that African-American women earn 64 cents to the dollar and Hispanic women only earn 55 cents to the dollar. Why is there this discrepancy if there are laws in place to prevent this?

To find out the answer, BTR spoke with Amy Richards, feminist activist and president of Soapbox Inc. “It’s definitely a problem,” says Richards, “It seems that jobs dominated by men tend to pay more, and that jobs dominated by women tend to pay less.”

The Center for American Progress agrees with Richards. They found that 97 percent of working women were in jobs that typically paid men more. That’s nearly the entire women’s workforce! The pay gap widens depending upon position. While female receptionists earn 99.8 percent of what male receptionists get, female chief executives make only 69 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Richards mentioned another obstacle that women face when considering their jobs…bearing children. While that’s not a reason women aren’t paid the same as men, it is a reason why some women pass up promotions. “According to a preliminary study done among Harvard Business School Alumni, millions of career opportunities are lost due to bearing children,” Richards explains, “More than half of women stated that they would not accept a higher paying job if it meant less time with their kids. For men, it was almost 0.”

But she feels that it’s not a choice for most women, because they can’t afford to take on extra responsibilities while raising an infant without any federal assistance. “The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide federally mandated funds for child rearing,” said Richards.

Countries like Sweden have taken this into consideration, and provided a generous maternity package for any working woman giving birth. They can receive 80 percent of their salary for 16 months after the child is born. Also, 60 of those days can be shared with the father as well.

Child rearing also plays a factor in the wage gap between other women. “What’s so surprising is that studies have shown that mothers make less than non-mothers,” says Richards. In fact, according to Momsrising.org, the gap between mothers and non-mothers is actually bigger than women and men. Non-mothers only earn 10 percent less than men while mothers earn 27 percent less.

So what’s the best way to fix it? The best hope for finally achieving equal pay is the Paycheck Fairness Act. It was first introduced in 2009 to make key adjustments to the 1963 Equal Pay Law. One of which, is to require companies to give information when requested to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Labor for monitoring and remedying pay inequality. Simply put, it would hold companies accountable for paying men more than women. The bill has been defeated twice, once in 2010 and again in 2012. However, the author of the bill, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) vows to continue the fight to make this bill a law. In a quote from the Huffington Post, Mikulski shouted, “Put on your lipstick! Square your shoulders! Suit up and let’s fight for a new American revolution where women are paid for equal work! Let’s end wage discrimination in this century once and for all.”