Friday, November 19, 2010

Dispelling the Wage Gap Myths – Paycheck Fairness Is Not a Woman-Only Issue

It is disappointing that the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) failed to pass a procedural vote this week to end the filibuster and bring it to the floor, 58-41 (60 votes were needed). Almost as disappointing are the arguments that we don’t need laws like these anymore or that the PFA would hurt men or that the wage gap doesn’t even exist anymore.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was not a law that tried to pit men against women or give women special treatment. Among its provisions, the PFA would have put gender discrimination on equal footing with other forms of discrimination such as race, disability or age by allowing women to sue for damages and back pay. It also would have stopped employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their coworkers.

It’s hard to believe that we are still having a conversation about the wage gap when countless studies show that it exists and that it affects women across their lifespan. The Institute of Women’s Policy Research found that the wage gap will cost women $400,000 to $2 million over a lifetime in lost wages. The gap also follows women after they leave the workforce, since lower wages translate to less opportunity to save for a secure retirement and lower Social Security monthly benefits.

Women still make 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. However, there are those who argue that women “choose” this gap because they tend to enter lower paying fields. One might think that makes sense, but when you look at nursing, where women hold 9 out of 10 of positions, you see that is not the case. In fact, female nurses actually earn 88% of what male nurses earn.

Others argue that women do not attain as much education as men to account for the wage gap, so it is only fair that they don’t make as much as men. By their argument, women should clearly make the same amount as men with equal education and in the same field; however, this argument does not hold water when you examine the facts. For example, women make up half of all law school graduates, but are less than one quarter of law firm partners and a recent study found that even the highest-ranking female lawyers are paid an average of $66,000 less per year than their male colleagues.

Still others argue that women leave the workforce for caregiving responsibilities (for either children or older adult family members), so they shouldn’t be paid as much. Pesky statistics get in the way again. Women who graduate from top ranked business schools will start out making $4,600 less per year than their male counterparts in their first job out of school and the American Association of University Women’s research shows that the wage gap begins within the first year out of college.

It’s time to move forward on this issue together and move past old, persistent myths. Many women are heads of households. Equal pay is good for women, good for families and good for men. Men and women should advocate for closing the wage gap to build the economic security of Americans both now and in the future.

Kelly Stellrecht
Field and Program Associate
Elder Economic Security Initiative

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