In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act making it illegal to pay women lower wages because of their gender. Yet nearly 40 years after our government declared that paying a woman less for the same job as a man was illegal, the gender-wage gap persists.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 the average woman working full time, year-round earned 77 cents to the average man's dollar. Critics argue the wage gap exists because men work longer hours in higher-wage industries, and because women take time out of the workforce when they become mothers. When these factors are taken into account using statistical modeling, a painful truth remains—women with similar credentials in similar jobs are paid less than their male counterparts.
The Institute for Women's Policy Research found that in 19 of the top 20 occupations for men, women earn less than men. The only male-dominated occupation where women do not earn less is among stock clerks and order fillers, which is one of the lowest-paid occupations on the list. The top 20 most common occupations for women account for more than 40 percent of full-time working women, yet they still earn less than men in all but one. Women who work in bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing earn slightly more than their male peers, but don't get too excited, the difference is a median of $2 per week.
The American Association of University Women has shown that the gender-wage gap emerges immediately after college graduation. A woman who goes to the same college and graduates with the same major and grades, takes the same type of job with similar workplace flexibility and benefits, and is of the same race and marital status with the same number of children as her male counterpart will still be paid 5 percent less. And if she acquires the same level of work experience 10 years down the road, the wage gap will widen to 12 percent.
The wage gap is not simply about the "choices" women make regarding careers or motherhood. The Paycheck Fairness Act would give women additional and much-needed equal pay protections. In addition to compensating victims of gender discrimination in the same ways as those who experience racial or ethnic discrimination, and making it easier for people who have been discriminated against to work together in class-action suits, the act would also create greater wage transparency. In these tough economic times, when nearly two thirds of mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families, pay equity is more important than ever before.
About Sarah Jane Glynn Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress
Diana Furchtgott-Roth Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
Penny Nance President and CEO of Concerned Women for America
Debbie Wasserman Schultz Chair of the Democratic National Committee