Point of View

Big gender gap still exists in wages

June 9, 2013 

Exactly 50 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act, there is no equality of pay between women and men; white, black and Hispanic – not even among workers with the same levels of education.

Today’s work force looks dramatically different from how it did in 1963 when the Equal Pay Act banning gender-based pay discrimination was passed.

Research from the American Association of University Women shows that even one year out of college, a typical college-educated woman working full time earned $35,296 a year, compared with $42,918 for a typical college-educated man working full time.

Even after controlling for factors known to affect earnings – such as occupation, college major and hours worked – a 7 percent pay gap persists between one-year-out male and female college graduates.

In North Carolina, women working full-time, year-round, earned on average $33,459 in 2011, compared with $41,950 earned by men – a wage gap of 20 percent.

The wage gap is even larger between white men and female African-American and Hispanic workers.

As I sat across from my representative in Raleigh on Advocacy Day, I tried to understand why it would be so difficult for a congressman to vote for equal pay.

My representative told me he didn’t really believe the research and didn’t really believe there were specific “women’s issues.” In a way, he’s right: The pay gap isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a family issue!

When women don’t earn the equal pay they deserve, it hurts their families, it hurts North Carolina’s economy and it hurts all of us.

So why are we not much better off than in 1963? For one thing, there are too many loopholes in the Equal Pay Act.

The law hinders employees’ ability to learn about wage disparities because there are no provisions preventing employers from retaliating against employees who ask for salary information.

The law itself makes it too easy for employers to pay different wages. Quite simply, the law hasn’t worked.

Ten years after college graduation, there’s still a 12 percent difference in wages of full-time workers.

That number takes into account everything from college major and GPA to industry, hours worked and experience. After 50 years of living under this law, it’s in need of repair to bring it in line with other civil-rights laws and finally close the wage gap.

Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill will close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, prohibit retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to coworkers and give employers and employees the tools they need to end unequal pay practices.

As president of the American Association of University Women Wilmington Branch, I am proud to be a part of the solution.

Through national and state efforts, we receive and disseminate updates on public policy issues, and through one of our tools, the “Two Minute Activist,” we can communicate instantly to our senators and representatives at both state and national levels.

We also sponsor a $tart $mart Salary-Negotiation Workshop in cooperation with the Women’s Studies and Resource Center on the campus of UNCW.

This workshop enables young women to find their own worth and value in the marketplace and to negotiate that first job out of college knowing their fair value.

Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still experiencing consequences of the pay gap – from their very first paycheck to their very last Social Security check.

Making equal pay a reality will require action on the part of employers, public policymakers and individuals. That includes you and me.

Jean D’Addario is president of the American Association of University Women Wilmington Branch.

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