Guest Column: On Equal Pay Day

MCT Forum (Diversity)

Tuesday, April 17, is Equal Pay Day. This date represents how far into 2012 women must work to earn what men earned in 2011. On average, women get paid 77 cents for every dollar men earn, so they have to work more for the same pay.

This disparity goes beyond the issue of gender equality. This is an economic injustice that affects nearly half the workers in this country.

The Department of Labor estimates that women made up 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force in 2010, accounting for up to 66 million workers. Overall, 73 percent of employed women worked full time, while 27 percent worked part time.

We cannot afford to be underpaying almost half the workers when our country is experiencing such challenging economic times. And women are not the only ones affected. Families are affected. Almost 14 million married couples with children relied on two incomes in 2009, representing 60 percent of all married couples with children, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Black and Latina women are affected. African-American women make only 62 cents, and Latinas only 53 cents, for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, the law center notes. Considering that they represent the two largest ethnic groups in the country, we are continuing the economic segregation that defined much of the last century.

Single mothers and their children are affected. Lower earnings cripple the economic security of the 6,340,000 families headed by working single mothers, 41 percent of whom already live below the federal poverty line.

The ability of women to retire is affected. The Center for American Progress estimates that a typical woman would lose $434,000 over a 40-year period due to the wage gap. Economist Evelyn Murphy, president of The WAGE Project, estimates that the wage gap costs the average American full-time woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her lifetime. Lower lifetime earnings mean lower Social Security benefits for women.

This problem must be addressed at a national level, since men earn more than women in every single state. The Paycheck Fairness Act, currently pending in Congress, is essential to combat unfair pay because it would allow victims of sex-based wage discrimination to seek justice.

But we don’t have to wait for Congress. Businesses can ensure they don’t discriminate against women workers by performing an Equal Pay Self-Audit provided by the U.S. Department of Labor on its website.

Women are projected to account for 51 percent of the increase in total labor force growth by 2018. We cannot wait until then to rectify this economic injustice.