June 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. Black and white photos from 1963 show a smiling President John Kennedy signing that bill, flanked by hopeful female advocates who had worked hard to get it passed. The gender pay gap between women and men at the time was 41 cents on the dollar for full-time, year-round work. We’ve made some progress since then — the gap is now 23 cents. Female workers have eked out a little more every decade, but at this rate it will take at least two more generations to reach equal pay with men.
But there’s another pay gap that’s getting worse — lots worse — every year. CEOs at the top of the heap are piling on the pay and perks while pushing ordinary workers — women and men alike — further to the bottom. In 1963, the average CEO pay was a about 19 times larger than those of workers. Now, according to an analysis of the S&P 500 Index top 250 companies, it’s a whopping 204 times as much. The top 20 CEOs got an average of $42 million last year, while wages of ordinary workers stagnated, and jobs lagged far behind the spectacular recovery of the stock market.
And just incidentally, at these lofty levels the glass ceiling gets thicker, notwithstanding those 18 million cracks, and the gender pay gap gets wider. There are no women in the top 20 S&P Index companies, and only 13 on the whole list of 250. Irene Rosenfeld of Mondelez International Inc., the one woman in the top 25, makes slightly over half of what her male counterparts average. Even so, the fact that a tiny fraction of women also benefit from immoral levels of income inequality doesn’t make it right.
Meanwhile, minimum wage workers, the majority of them adult women, still earn only $7.25 per hour. After payroll taxes, that works out to $6.70 an hour. So a minimum wage mom has to work 37 minutes to buy a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. The average CEO has to work less than one second.
Some states have taken it on their own to raise the minimum wage, but that’s not enough. A living wage shouldn’t depend on where you live.
So let’s raise a glass to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Equal Pay Act, but not too high. If things don’t change, we’re on the road to a permanent (mostly female) underclass. We still have a lot of work to do.
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! and Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How It Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism That Kept Women Down.