Equal Pay Day marks chronic gap

Record Observer - - Opinion -

Equal Pay Day was 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 in­comeearn­ers 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.

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