April 14th is Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into 2015 women must work to earn what men earned in 2014. It’s a day we have to observe despite the fact that it’s been more than half a century since JFK signed the Equal Pay Act, because women still don’t have equal pay.
According to the newest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, American women who work full-time, year-round, still only earn 78 cents for every dollar that men earn. The numbers are even worse for women of color: black women earn 65 cents for each dollar a man earns. Latinas are at just 54 cents.
On their own, these numbers are frustrating enough. But even more appalling than the fact that we haven’t closed the gender wage gap over the last 50-plus years is how far we are from doing so. Although the gap narrowed steadily over the 60s and through the 90s, it’s barely budged in the past decade. In the past year, we only made a penny of progress.
That’s right: a penny.
At the current rate, a recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) estimates that we won’t have equal pay until 2058.
The pay gap cannot be argued away. It exists for women whether they are mothers or not, at all career levels, regardless of the job they take. While education increases women’s earnings, it doesn’t eliminate the gap—it actually widens it. According to IWPR, women with a bachelor’s degree earn only 69 percent of what their male counterparts earn.
These numbers should disturb everyone, men included. Equal pay isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a family issue. Women make up nearly half the U.S. workforce, and two thirds of mothers are co- or primary breadwinners. Increasing their earnings would be a boost to our economy and our communities. In fact, closing the wage gap could cut the country’s poverty rate in half for working women and their families and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the national economy.
Working women can’t afford to wait for 2058. Fortunately, instead sitting around and crossing days off the calendar, there are clear steps we can take to act. To begin with, we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963 but has been repeatedly blocked in Congress.
We also need to restructure our workplace to support working women and reflect the needs of modern families by passing paid leave. Only 2 countries out of 185 still don’t guarantee paid maternity leave—and the U.S. is one of them (Papua New Guinea is the other). Young women right out of college experience almost no wage gap, but as they get older and begin to have children, the gap widens. If we’re going to live up to our family values, nurture the next generation of Americans, and make sure that our workplaces are fair to women, we have to support new parents.
And while it’s important to continue talking about women in positions of power and leadership, we can’t just look up; we have to look down. We need to raise the floor.
Women make up the majority of the low-wage labor force, and they spend their days working hard in jobs we all depend on—they serve us our food, nurture our children, and care for our elderly parents. Raising the minimum wage (and the tipped minimum wage) would both help shrink the pay gap and help women support themselves and their families.
So celebrate Equal Pay Day this year by making sure we won’t have to observe it for another 50 years. Urge your legislators to support these policies, which will help close a gender wage gap that has been short-changing not just working women but their families and our nation’s economy.