Women, tired of being treated like second class citizens in the workplace earnings arena, are demanding through legislation and lawsuits that they receive equal pay for comparable jobs performed by men. Studies and research shows that women still earn less than men in almost all occupations. The US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor statistics shows that women working full time still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The gap is even wider with minority women. African American women earn 71 cents to the dollar of what men earn. And Hispanic women make only 62 cents. This hardly seems fair to anyone with a conscious.
Women’s salaries are outpaced by men almost everywhere from the highest paying occupations to the lowest paying occupations. Everywhere from doctors and lawyers to cashiers and lesser positions, women earn less than their male counterparts. In those few areas, where women earn more, the earnings are roughly $369 per week, hardly high enough for anyone to shout about. And those occupations with the lowest weekly earnings for full time employment have twice as many women as men. So women excel in the lowest paying jobs that men neither want nor need to take.
This wage discrimination affects women from the start of working until retirement. And it starts early about 1 year after women enter the working place. Women straight out of college begin to earn less than men 1 year later. The amount of a woman’s wages determines her benefits for Social Security and pension. Over the lifetime of a working woman, new research shows that a woman’s earnings are $400,000 less than a comparable male counterpart over a 35 year working life. Evidence shows this is due to unequal pay practices, namely discrimination.
On Tuesday, April 12, 2011, known as Equal Pay Day, Senator Tom Harkin (D. IA) will introduce the Fair Pay Act of 2011 which would require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. Senator Harkin’s bill would also require employers to disclose the pay scales and rates for all job categories at a given company. This would help give women the information they need to identify pay for job categories without disclosing the employee’s names.
With women making up roughly 46% of the US working population, it’s a wonder why women earn less. The real and only obvious reason is pay discrimination. The woman dean of the Senate, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D. MD) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D. CT) have co-sponsored the “Paycheck Fairness Act” which will require that an employer must justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job and would make it easier for women to file class action suits against their employers for alleged sex-based discrimination.
The real way these sex discrimination practices will change is by hitting employers where they hurt most, in their checkbooks. If cases such as Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the largest class action fair pay case ever filed, with millions of women workers, are allowed to go forward and succeed, employers will re-think their strategy to save money on the backs of women. And women will receive their back pay in full. This will be a just reward and change the present pervasive culture that still treats women like second class citizens.
Women have come a long way but still have got a long way to go to equal a man’s paycheck. In the words of Aretha Franklin, all women want is R-E-S-P-E-C-T and it’s about time.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer, and legal/political commentator. She addresses issues on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.