Happy Equal Pay Day!

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, the symbolic date established by the National Committee on Pay Equity to show how many extra months into the year a woman would have to work to earn as much as a man does in a year. Relative to male earnings, the first nearly four months worked by a woman count for nothing. In other words, women worked through Tuesday of this week to equal what men earned by December 31st of last year.

The ratios may fluctuate, but some kind of wage gender gap has always persisted since women entered the workforce in numbers. In the early 1970s, women in America made 57 percent of what men made. The latest Census Bureau figures from 2003 put women's earnings at 75.5 cents to the male dollar, which is a 50-cent bigger gap than the year before. For women of color, the gulf was bigger - 66 cents to the male dollar for African-American women, 55 cents for Latinas.Here is a good Article by Nikki Katz giving some of the background and economic data both for and against the view that the gap exists. In reality nobody other than certain Fox News commentators dispute that the pay gap exists. The real issues is whether and what should be done about it.

Every time the pay-gap issue is raised, it sets off testy exchanges between those who blame sex discrimination and those who point out that women either take themselves out of the work force to raise children or gravitate toward jobs that pay less. When George W. Bush took office, his budget cut funding for the EEOC, which enforces federal laws against discrimination and upholds the equal pay. In 2002, the Bush budget decreased funding for the EEOC by $9 million below the level needed to maintain its services, according to an analysis by the House Democratic Policy Committee.

President Bush did not support Democratic efforts to improve the Equal Pay Act. The Department of Labor under President Bush eliminated a program to train women in high paying jobs. He opposes increasing the minimum wage, which would benefit working women who are in lower-paying jobs. He does not support the Pay Fairness Act.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, one of the members of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, stated before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April, 1999 that "The average wage gap is not proof of widespread discrimination, but of women making choices about their educational and professional careers in a society where the law has granted them equality of opportunity to do so."But even if that argument holds a thimble full of water, sexism remains a factor. Maybe women are the ones staying home with children because they'd be earning less than their husbands or partners if working. Or maybe because of societal biases about men's and women's respective roles.

And doesn't sexism play a part in the fact that women, especially women of color, predominate in sales, clerical and service jobs, which pay less? Studies show that the more an occupation is dominated by women or people of color, the less it pays. Part of the wage gap results from differences in education, experience or time in the workforce. But a significant portion cannot be explained by any of those factors; it is attributable to discrimination. In other words, certain jobs pay less because they are held by women and people of color. Link to NCPE That theory holds up when you consider that college-educated women in full-time jobs still earn only 72 percent as much as college-educated men, according to a study by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

So congratulations and happy Equal Pay Day ladies. You may now begin earning money for THIS year!