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August 16, 2013

Wage gap persists after 50 years of Equal Pay Act

This year marks anniversary of legislation

In today’s struggling economy, this story is all too familiar: A young woman who has been a member of the American Association of University Women Fort Wayne Branch for years lost her job when her employer closed its doors. She sent out many resumes, had promising interviews. Finally, there was a job offer. But this woman knew her skills and experiences were worth more money than what she was offered. How should she negotiate a higher salary?

Fortunately, she received advice from women who helped her negotiate her salary without losing the job offer. She was successful, received a better salary, and now has a good job. Yet this is a scary situation for women who aren’t trained to negotiate for their worth. And it gets even scarier when we look at the broader landscape that finds women earning less on average than men in the same jobs with the same qualifications.

AAUW is working on both fronts: offering $tart $mart salary negotiation workshops to women who are getting ready to graduate from college, and pushing for legislation to close the wage gap so that women receive equal pay for equal work from the beginning.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act – and this year marks the 50th anniversary of this legislation. Unsurprisingly, the workforce of today is very different from that of 1963. Women now make up the majority of workers and are in many cases the primary breadwinners. They aren’t working for luxuries but the essentials of life. Yet women working full time in 2011 earned on average 77 percent of what men earned. In Indiana, the earnings ratio in 2011 was worse: The state median annual earnings for men working year round was $45,183, while for women it was $34,023, representing an earnings ratio of 75 percent. These numbers do not represent workplace equality. Employees should be paid on a basis of skills and performance, not gender.

But gender isn’t the only issue. In all racial and ethnic groups in 2012, women earned on average less than men in equitable jobs. African American women earned 10 percent less than African American men. Hispanic women earn 12 percent less than Hispanic men, and Asian-American women earned 27 percent less. If you compare the earnings of minority women to those of white males, the wage gap is even greater.

Given that we’ve had the Equal Pay Act for 50 years, why does the wage gap persist? Simply put, this law has too many loopholes. Employees can’t learn about wage disparities, so are unable to evaluate whether they are experiencing pay discrimination. Moreover, the law doesn’t have provisions preventing employers from retaliating against employees who try to learn that information by asking about wages or sharing their salary information. The law makes it too easy for employers to pay different wages to their male and female employees performing the same job, without providing legitimate business justification.  

Finally, the law is outdated. It needs to be brought into line with all the other civil rights laws.

The solution is the Paycheck Fairness Act. It would close the Equal Pay Act loopholes, create incentives for employers to follow the law, give women tools to negotiate for equal pay, strengthen penalties for equal pay violations, and prohibit retaliations against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices.

Today we ask: What is better than the Equal Pay Act’s 50th anniversary? A Paycheck Fairness Act birthday.

Indiana Reps. Peter Visclosky and Andre Carson are co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act. But last month, the House of Representatives voted against bringing it up for a vote. This bill deserves an up-or-down vote. Rep. Visclosky can join Rep. Carson and the rest of his colleagues in calling for that up-or-down vote today by signing what’s called a discharge petition to immediately bring the Paycheck Fairness Act to the House floor for consideration.

We need to contact our senators and representative and tell them our position on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Remember, we elected them to office.

Pat Becker is co-president of the American Association of University Women Fort Wayne Branch. Joy Hess is treasurer of the American Association of University Women Goshen Branch.

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