BY TRONE DOWD
One of the most significant fights in the modern era is the fight for equal wages for both men and women. What may seem like one of the most basic concepts for society to grasp has proved to be a lot more controversial than one might think. After all, if a woman can vote, work, and pay taxes with the same efficiency as a man, then why should they be paid any differently for a job?
There have been great strides in closing that gap in recent years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women now make 76 cents for every dollar a man makes, compared to 59 cents on the dollar in the early 1960s. Women of color in particular have seen improvements in the longstanding issue, even if it’s a far cry from their white counterparts. Black women made 70.6 percent of men’s earnings in 2016, a four percent increase compared to 2015. Hispanic women saw the smallest increase, with a .6 percent increase in 2016, compared to 2015. Asian women saw a 2.7 percent increase, from 91.9 percent of men’s wages to 94.6 percent.
However, this is nowhere near equality. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, black and Hispanic women would have to wait 108 years and 232 years, respectively, for equal pay. Overall, this gap is costing women an astonishing $500 billion per year.
While there have been champions for the cause over the last half a century, there is still a difficulty in enforcing such basic levels of equality. President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act (EPA) in 1963, requiring that men and women be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment. The effort was thwarted by American businesses due to vague loopholes in the EPA, using factors such as seniority, productivity and “any other factor other than sex” as stated in the document, to impede women’s equality. The EPA also does very little to punish violators of the plan, only asking that the company pay two years in retroactive pay to the wronged individual, which is pocket change for most large corporations today.
In 2014, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) attempted to enact tougher laws against violators of the rules established by the EPA through the Paycheck Fairness Act and had the backing of President Barack Obama. But as of this writing, it has not passed.
So, what can be done to ensure that this changes at a much faster and more reasonable rate? Some states, such as California and Massachusetts, have found a way, looking to state legislation to fix the issue sooner and eliminating loopholes found in the EPA.
New York, although progressive in many ways, still struggles on this front. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James has been vocal about closing the gap, saying said that she’d like to see the state follow in the footsteps of California and Massachusetts and block federal loopholes that give companies room to maneuver and pay women less. Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have said that they support the move for equal pay.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, paying homage to the great accomplishments of women across the world, let us not forget the work that still remains in getting women on equal footing with everyone else. For more information on this topic, visit www.aauw.org