On the surface, women seem to be doing pretty well in the U.S. Hillary Clinton almost won the presidential nomination, and Sarah Palin could become the first female vice-president.
But despite the advances women have made in the political arena, inequality between the sexes still exists in terms of equal pay for equal work.
Many people might be surprised to learn that pay inequity still exists in the U.S. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, for the same work, women only make 77.8 percent of what men make. In terms of actual earnings, men make an average of $45,113 while women earn $35,102 – a difference of $10,000.
The above statistics hold true for all women, regardless of their backgrounds. Pay inequity actually increases as a woman’s level of education increases. Within a lifetime, women with high school diplomas will earn $700,000 less than men, while those with college degrees will make $1.2 million less than their male counterparts. This number jumps to $2 million if the woman is a professional school graduate.
These statistics represent a very slow closing of the gap between men’s and women’s wages. In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act became law, women could only expect to earn 59 percent of what men earned.
In more than 40 years, women’s pay has only increased by about 20 percent, which translates into about half a percent increase annually. This is pathetic, especially considering the fact that the U.S. is one of the richest nations in the world.
In addition to being (technically) against the law, pay inequity obviously increases women’s chances of living in poverty. Though women make less money than men for the same work, they still have to pay the same prices for goods and services. Because of this sad truth, women, especially single mothers, are hit the hardest when the economy does poorly.
Also, pay inequity can put women’s futures in danger. As the National Organization for Women notes, pay inequity “penalizes (women’s) retirement security by creating gaps in social security and pensions.”
Workplaces have obviously dragged their feet in reversing discriminative practices, and the government hasn’t done much to speed up the process either.
A recent study conducted by the General Accounting Office at the request of three Democratic congressmen confirms the failure to ensure pay equity by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliances, two federal agencies responsible for enforcing the Equal Pay Act. While the agencies may take the initial steps to ensure equal pay, they fail to monitor progress in their investigations and do not fact-check the self-evaluations contractors provide them about salary policies.
While the government may have provided the framework to ensure pay equity, if it does not enforce its own policies, then the framework is useless. Apparently, correcting pay inequity based on gender is not one of our nation’s top priorities, though it should be.
It’s embarrassing that the U.S. government demands equal rights for women in other countries but fails to fully provide them to American women.
There’s really no easy solution to the problem. It’s impossible to ensure that every employer in the country pays employees equally regardless of gender, and discriminative policies cannot change overnight. Regardless, the government needs to step up its efforts to correct the problem of pay inequity.