It’s been more than 50 years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, and what do women have to show for it? That depends on how you view the progress.
A commonly cited statistic — that women make about 80 cents for every dollar men make — suggests the wage gap has narrowed considerably. But when you look at the numbers in terms of annual income, women fall short by $10,470.
Over a working lifetime, the shortfall amounts to enough money to fund a retirement.
So for Equal Pay Day — which this year is Tuesday, April 4 — we’re taking a closer look at the current state of the gender wage gap.
Milestones on the road to equal pay
Progress has been made over the past several decades in the struggle to achieve pay equality.
Key legislative milestones include the Equal Pay Act of 1963, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act followed in 1964 under President Lyndon B. Johnson. These federal laws prohibit gender-based pay discrimination.
In 1979, civil rights organizations and other groups seeking to bridge the wage gap banded together to form a coalition — the National Committee on Pay Equity.
The NCPE went on to found Equal Pay Day in 1996 to raise awareness of the wage gap. Each year, the NCPE notes, Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the next year women must work to earn what men earned for the previous year.
Back in 1963, women’s median annual earnings were $16,908 and men’s were $28,684 — a difference of $11,776, according to the NCPE’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data on median annual earnings.
Fast forward to the latest U.S..Census data, released in 2016 and reflective of 2015. Both genders’ median annual earnings have increased considerably — with women’s at $40,742 and men’s at $51,212. But the shortfall for women remains five figures per year — $10,470.
Economist Evelyn Murphy estimated in her 2005 book “Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men -- And What to Do About It” that, over a working lifetime, the wage gap costs a woman $700,000 to $2 million, depending on her education level.
A better future? Or more of the same?
So if it took more than 50 years for women to narrow a gap of $11,776 to $10,470, how long will it take to actually close the gender wage gap?
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank, projects that, if current trends continue, women will have to wait decades more — until 2059.
The news is far worse for blacks and Hispanics, who face wider wage gaps. Black women will wait until 2124 and Hispanic women until 2248 to narrow the gap, according to the institute.
As the National Committee on Pay Equity explains it:
“The wage gap exists, in part, because many women and people of color are still segregated into a few low-paying occupations. More than half of all women workers hold sales, clerical and service jobs. Studies show that the more an occupation is dominated by women or people of color, the less it pays.”
The NCPE also attributes the wage gap in part to differences in education, experience and time in the workforce.
Then there still remains a part of the gap that cannot be explained, even after accounting for such factors as demographics and work-related differences that affect wages, as a 2003 congressional report concluded.
The report states that it could not be determined whether discrimination was a factor in this remaining part of the gap, citing limitations of data and analysis.
The NCPE is more conclusive, however, reiterating that “certain jobs pay less simply because they are held by women and people of color.”
The coalition believes that pay equity can end such wage discrimination and close the wage gap. It defines pay equity as “evaluating and compensating jobs based on their skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, and not on the people who hold the jobs.”
There’s just one problem with this solution. According to the NCPE:
” … wage discrimination laws are poorly enforced and cases are extremely difficult to prove and win. Stronger legislation is needed to ease the burden of filing claims and clarify the right to pay equity.”
What do you think it will take to close the gender wage gap? Share your thoughts below or over on our Facebook page.