It's Equal Pay Day again---the day that symbolizes how many additional days women working full-time would have to work to make as much as men working full-time did during the previous year. (The wage gap exists both across sectors---that is, a woman working as a secretary makes less than a man working in a factory---and within sectors---that is, male teachers make more than female teachers.)
Nationwide, women continue to make just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men---and less than 40 percent of that can be explained away by "choices" such as staying home to take care of children and family members, extra time spent running errands and doing household chores, job experience, occupation, and union status. For more on the context behind those "choices," check out David Futrelle's excellent essay in Time.
And women aren't just earning less than men overall; they're earning less working the exact same jobs. A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded that nationally men earn more in nearly every occupation, even those where a majority of positions are held by women. Of the 20 jobs most commonly held by women, women earned more than men in just one---bookkeeping, where women earn 100.3 percent of what men earn. The pay disparity starts right at the beginning of a woman's career. According to a recent study by the American Association of University Women, recent female college graduates made just 80 percent of their male counterparts' salaries.
Here in Washington State, meanwhile, the median woman also makes 77 cents to every man's dollar. On an hourly basis, according to an analysis by the Economic Opportunity Institute, men earn a median income of $20.95 an hour; women, just $16.08. Overall, women earn just 63 cents per month for every dollar earned by men.
Over time, the wage gap amounts to real money. Every year, the National Partnership for Women and Families estimates, a typical full-time working woman in Washington State loses about $10,225 to the wage gap---an amount of money that could pay for 90 more weeks of food, seven more months of mortgage and utility payments, 13 more months of rent, 3.2 more years of family health insurance, or 2,861 more gallons of gas.
The Center for American Progress estimates that over the course of a woman's career, the wage gap adds up to more than $430,000 in lost wages. This is true despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of all American households have a female breadwinner. (So much for "the richer sex.") "With the money lost over her lifetime, a woman could feed a family of four for 37 years, pay for seven four-year degrees at a public university, or simply save the money for retirement, boosting her quality of life when she leaves the workforce," the CAP concludes.
So what can we do? Well, we could start by mandating and funding paid maternity and paternity leave. The US is one of only five countries that do not require some form of paid maternity leave; the others are Mongolia, Mali, Cuba, and Chad.
We could fund programs that help women break into the higher-paying industrial and manufacturing sectors, which are overwhelmingly dominated by men. During the recovery, women have regained just 13.4 percent of the jobs they lost during the recession, while men have regained 38 percent of the jobs they lost.
And we could encourage women to fight against pay disparities in the workplace---through laws such as the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which ended the statute of limitations on discrimination lawsuits, or by promoting pay transparency by barring companies from discouraging workers from discussing how much they make.
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