April 9 is the date when American working women finally catch up to the amount men earned by last December 31. That’s because the gender pay gap between women and men for full-time, year-round workers is 20 cents on the dollar, and it’s not closing. In fact, it’s getting wider. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, at current rates it will take another 45 years for women to catch up. That’s a whole career in anybody’s book.
There are a number of causes for the pay gap, including job segregation (“men’s jobs” — like plumbing, pay more than “women’s jobs” — like teaching). And more women take time out to care for kids and aging parents. But as many women know, plain old sex discrimination plays a big part. Lilly Ledbetter found out the hard way after 19 years at Goodyear, when she learned she had been underpaid all along compared to men doing the same job. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court — where she lost. The Supremes said she should have complained earlier, even though she didn’t know about the discrimination earlier.
Congress fixed that Catch-22 with Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first law President Obama signed. But that very small step for womankind was not nearly enough. The main reason Ledbetter got shafted was that she didn’t know her situation compared to the men. Employers still have no obligation to report pay statistics, and in most companies you can even get fired for talking pay with co-workers.
There’s a new bill — The Paycheck Fairness Act — to stop these arbitrary firings — if Congress ever passes it. Another tiny step, but it does nothing to help women learn how they’re being paid compared to men in the first place.
President Obama could fix a big part of the problem even without Congress. He could issue an Executive Order not only banning the practice of firing people for talking about pay, but also requiring employers to release pay statistics by gender. Not all employers, of course — just those that want federal contracts, paid for with your tax dollars. In this day of bailouts and boondoggles at taxpayer expense, citizens footing the bills have a right to know that any company getting government business pays its workers fairly.
Good for women, good for families, and good for taxpayers. Sounds right to me — how about you?
Listen to Martha Burk’s audio blog here. In addition to hosting her radio show, guest contributor Martha Burk is the author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need!