(WOMENSENEWS)—When President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963, women made only 60 percent of the average salary for men. Fifty-three years later, that gap has narrowed, but is far from closed.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that as of 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, women earn 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. The gap is considerably wider for women of color, especially for African American and Hispanic or Latina women.
In observance of the 53rd anniversary of the law, try some of the tools on the web about the wage gap.
If you live in Massachusetts, check out your own wage gap calculator, which you can find on the official website of Massachusetts State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg. This tool breaks wage differences down by fields. Users are also encouraged to take advantage of the toolkit and spread awareness to their employers via email anonymously.
According to the Massachusetts website, an average woman working in the legal industry makes $34 to a man’s $66 per hour. To better illustrate the real impacts of this wage disparity, the number is scaled to represent the salary difference of $61,000 per year. Over 35 years, that adds up to 802 months of rent or 1,540,203 cups of coffee.
While part of the wage disparity is attributed to occupational segregation, where women are more likely to hold lower-paying positions, such as in clerical or service jobs, that logic does not explain other aspects of the gap.
Even with more lucrative jobs that require more training and education, like those in the legal or management field, women are still paid less than men.
The Equal Pay Act embodies the mission to close the pay gap and many things have been written about the society-wide benefits of doing so.
As a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the law aimed to eradicate wage disparities between women and men whose jobs require substantially the same set of skills, effort and responsibility, performed under similar working conditions.
But that turned out to be more easily said than done. The law provides insufficient criteria to clarify factors that might cause unequal pay, such as prohibitions against the sharing of wage information. And it fails to impose remedies.
Despite controlling for such variables as educational attainment and job experience, 41 percent of the gender pay gap remains unexplained, a 2007 study by labor economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn finds.
Equal Pay Day, established in 1966 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, has been celebrated every year nationwide and around the world. It marks how far into the calendar year women, on average, must work to catch up with male earnings the previous year.
The celebration comes in many forms; a presidential proclamation, a rally, a flash mob, or community events and social media campaigns.
This year’s Equal Pay Day was observed on April 12. Meanwhile, mothers this year needed until May 16 to catch up with fathers’ earnings. For women of color, the dates are even further away, coming on Aug. 23 for African American women and Nov. 1 for Latina women.
Remedial legislation to the Equal Pay Act includes the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, employees are free to disclose their own wages and discuss wage practices with employers and coworkers without the risk of job loss. It would also facilitate institutional data collection on wage-related issues and labor laws.
The bill, introduced in 2009 and now bogged down in Congress, bolsters existing norms since pay secrecy is, with some exceptions, generally illegal.
But poor public awareness of workers’ rights, along with minor fines for violations, embolden employers to break the law, as discussed in this article by NPR.
Unlike government agencies where general wage information is made public, private sector employers tend to limit access to this data, according to research published in 2014 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, based in Washington, D.C. Those findings show that 62 percent of women and 60 percent of men working in the private sector agree that salary information is kept confidential.
“Pay secrecy is even more common among single mothers,” the authors write. “While there may be no direct link between pay secrecy and pay inequality, pay secrecy appears to contribute to the gender gap in earnings.”
In 2014 President Barack Obama signed an executive order against pay secrecy by federal contractors.
If workers were freer to discuss wages, it could have prevented the problem that befell Lilly Ledbetter and the need for a law named after her. That law, signed by Obama in 2009, allows the 180-day time limit to file complaints concerning pay discrimination to renew every time the inequitable paycheck is issued.
Ledbetter worked for over 20 years for Goodyear Tire and Rubber before she discovered she was paid substantially less than male counterparts. The Supreme Court ruled that she could not proceed with her pay discrimination suit because justices set the starting point of the 180-day time limit at the company’s initial decision about her pay, not her most recent paycheck.