Equal Pay Day
The country celebrated Equal Pay Day last week on Tuesday, April 12.
That’s the day on the calendar, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, when women finally catch up to earn as much as men did from the previous year.
In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed, and statistics on the gap began being generated and publicized. At that time, women were making 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men.
Over those past 53 years, wars have been won and lost, nations have changed names and leadership. But the pay gap between women and men remains.
There have been gains — about 18 cents’ worth, by some measures. The shorthand says women now make 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men. Even though math is fact based, this figure is political. Some sociologists and some economists say numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the 77 cent figure to be inaccurate.
They say it doesn’t take into account such things as the different definitions of “full time,” and suggest a better snapshot between the sexes can be had by comparing average weekly wages instead of annual wages.
When a variety of details are factored in — such as race, education and experience — some statistics even show that women earn roughly between 81 percent and 94 percent of what men make.
So while the size of the pay gap may be debatable, the fact of it is not. In many ways, the focus on a tidy number distracts attention from more complex problems about wage earners, gaps between the sexes and income inequality.
A recent study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project shows that women’s wages are rising across all economic groups and have been doing so since 1970. At the same time, family income is falling for the bottom 40 percent of families.
Some sociologists say the best way to bridge the income inequality gap for poor and working-class people is to get married and stay that way. Richard Reeves, policy director of Brookings’ Center on Children and Families, has written that “matrimony is flourishing among the rich but floundering among the poor, leading to a large, corresponding ‘marriage gap.’”
At the same time, wages for men in the bottom 40 percent of income-earners are declining. The result is fewer marriages and more divorces among lower-income wage earners. The decline of stable families among the working class has fed inequality and immobility, and economic pressures are widening the gap among classes.
The nation needs policies like wage subsidies, early-childhood education and safe and affordable day care to help strengthen households in general.
The wage gap between the sexes should be closed, of course, but the problems threatening families are bigger than that.