Equal Pay Day is needed because women still make less than men

It is a sad fact that most women still make less than men for doing the same job in nearly all occupations.

The subject has been trending on social media because today is Equal Pay Day, the symbolic date picked to highlight how how far into the year women need to work to make what men did last year. (In other words: 1 year, 4 months, and 4 days compared to only 1 year for men.)

The National Committee on Pay Equity came up with the day in 1996 as a public awareness campaign.

How much progress has been made since then?  In Pennsylvania, workers are on track to get the same pay for the same work in 2068. That is 51 years from now, if trends hold, the Institute for Women's Policy Research reported.

That means if you are a 14-year-old girl and plan to retire at age 65, you will still never be paid the same as your male counterparts.

In New Jersey, equal pay is projected to happen in 2054.  Overall, the U.S. is expected to have equal pay in 2059.

Marianne Bellesorte, who leads Pathways PA, a nonprofit advocacy organization, said that pay inequity contributes to poverty, homelessness, and abuse of women. 

“Because of unequal pay,” she said, “women are more likely to be living in poverty.” 

“We lose 81 weeks of groceries to the pay gap,” Bellesorte said, citing research from the National Partnership for Women and Families.  On average, she said, research shows that if women in Pennsylvania were paid equally, they’d have enough money to fund 14 additional months of childcare, a year’s worth of tuition and fees at a community college, or a year’s worth of rent.

The Equal Pay Law was signed in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. The law made it illegal to pay women less for the same job on the basis of gender. At the time, women earned 59 percent of men's wages. In 2000, women earned 74 percent of what men make, NBC reported.

Pennsylvania legislators are considering a bill that would forbid municipalities from enacting any measures to address pay inequity and would roll back the salary history bill signed into law earlier this year in Philadelphia. 

Comcast Corp. had threatened to sue the city if Mayor Kenney signed that bill, which he later did, effectively banning employers from asking job applicants about salary history. Experts say that people’s earlier salaries tend to influence what they earn later, and since women typically earn less from the start, changing jobs doesn’t necessarily get them enough of a raise to bring them into parity with men in similar positions. 

"We may get sued, we may not," Kenney said after an unrelated news conference in City Hall. "But Council passed this measure by unanimous vote, and I see no reason why I shouldn't sign it."

Senate Bill 241, which passed the Pennsylvania Senate on Feb. 8, takes direct aim at the city’s ordinance. It has been referred to the House.

Although New Jersey is doing better than Pennsylvania and the national average, “Wage inequalities are particularly stark in New Jersey because men’s wages are so high – we rank second in the nation for white, non-Hispanic men,” said Dana Britton, Director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “Our proximity to New York’s financial district and the mix of highly profitable industries in the state pushes wages up, but for some workers more than others. The gaps are so large for Latina workers because they are disproportionately concentrated in lower-paying occupations in the service and logistics sectors.” 

The Institute looked at 120 full-time occupations to study the gender gap. They found some jobs have larger pay gaps than others.

If a woman aspires to be a personal financial adviser, she can expect to make a little more than half – 55.6 percent – of the guy in the desk next to you. A little more than one-third – 35.6 percent – of the profession is female.

Women made slightly more than men in only four occupations – counselors; teacher assistants, food preparation and serving workers, and sewing machine operators.