This article was co-authored by Kate Michelman and Terry L. Fromson
The Equal Pay Act became law fifty years ago today. Unfortunately, we remain far from achieving the goal of the law. Nationwide, women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, a 23 cent gap which adds up to over $10,000 per year. These pay disparities have real-life negative consequences for women and their families. Just last week, the Pew Research Center reported that women are the sole or primary source of income in 40 percent of American households with children under age 18.
The wage gap varies by state and city. Pennsylvania's gender wage gap mirrors the national average at 77 cents paid to women for every dollar paid to men, putting the Commonwealth in the bottom half of all states in terms of pay equity. Within Pennsylvania, the gap varies by municipality; in Pittsburgh women are paid 73 cents to the dollar paid to men, while women in Philadelphia are paid 76 cents to the dollar paid to a man.
Minority women suffer a greater disparity. Nationally, African American women are paid 70 cents to the dollar paid to men.
Hispanic women are paid only 60 cents for every dollar paid to men. The wage gap in Pennsylvania for African American women is 72 cents to the dollar paid to men. Hispanic women in Pennsylvania fare worse, as they are paid only 58 cents to the dollar paid to men.
Comparing the pay of Pennsylvania women to just white non-Hispanic men highlights the combined effect of race/ethnicity and sex on pay. In Pennsylvania, white non-Hispanic women are paid 75.2 cents, African American women are paid 68.1 cents, and Hispanic women are paid 55.5 cents relative to the dollar paid to white non-Hispanic men.
At the same time, women in Pennsylvania are more likely to be poor than men, and female-headed families are three times more likely to live in poverty. For these families, the gap between what employers pay them and what employers should pay them may make the difference between feeding their families healthy meals, keeping a roof over their heads, and having transportation to work. The wage gap increases economic insecurity for Pennsylvania families.
While the wage gap fluctuates based on occupation and education, women are paid less than men in almost every occupation despite almost identical qualifications. Women are paid less even though they are earning the largest portion of college diplomas. At the rate that this gap is changing, the wage gap will not be closed for over forty years, almost 100 years after the adoption of the Equal Pay Act.
The underlying cause of the wage gap is sex discrimination - plain and simple. Employers pay women less than men. Employers offer them fewer jobs and fewer promotions and pay them less for the same work. This ongoing sex discrimination is aggravated by a number of additional factors. Gender segregation persists in the workforce, with sex stereotypes driving women into low-wage, often part-time jobs, predominantly occupied by women. In these often minimum wage jobs, women are subjected to wage theft, when they are shorted hours, forced to work off the clock, not paid overtime, or not paid at all.