Archived: Fair Pay Still Elusive for Working Mothers

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As a new entrant into the labor pool in 1963, I made the minimum wage — $1.25 an hour. But I was among multitudes of women who then earned only 59 percent of the compensation earned by men. We had a long way to go to reach parity with male coworkers, and, sadly, we’re not there yet. Working women in America today can expect to earn 77 percent of their male counterparts’ pay.

Despite improvement over time, statistics belie the fact that far more families of working women are adversely affected by the pay gap now than nearly half a century ago. Today, women earn an increasing proportion of household income. Most mothers are in the paid work force, and more working mothers are single or sole breadwinners. Indeed, for some families in this economy, a woman’s pay could make the difference in being able to stay in a home. It also can make all the difference in her children’s opportunities in life.

The American Association of University Women, has issued a number of reports on the pay gap. In its 2007 report, Behind the Pay Gap, AAUW found not only that the gap applied to college graduates, but also that the gap widened over time. The study found that just one year after graduation, women earned 80 percent of what their male counterparts made. Ten years after graduation, women’s earnings ratio had declined to 69 percent. In 2011, AAUW issued, Simple Truth about the Pay Gap. Looking at how the pay gap affected women of varying circumstances, it concluded that the pay gap exists for women from all backgrounds, all ages and all levels of education. At the same time, pay disparity was found to be widest for women of color compared to white men – with Hispanic and Latina women making only 60 percent of the median weekly earnings for white men.

The gender pay gap also grows with age. Women earn about 90 percent of what men earn until about age 35. The gap widens to a differential of 74 percent-77 percent during peak earning years for ages 35 to 64 – resulting, in turn, in reduced retirement income for women. And, for those with professional degrees, women make but 72 percent of their male counterparts’ earnings.

Given the importance of women’s earnings to families, we can no longer consider pay equity as simply a women’s issue. Fairness is at stake; gender bias should never be acceptable. But also at stake is the economic status of the vast majority of Americans.

There has been progress in reducing the pay gap between women and men. But we are far from achieving pay equity. Equal Pay Day, April 17 is approaching — the day when median earnings for women since Jan. 1, 2011, equals earnings for men for calendar year 2011. This means women must work nearly 16 months to make what men earn in 12.

We do have laws that deal with systemic underpayment for women’s work. The Equal Pay Act, enacted in 1963, prohibits employers from paying women less because of their gender. The following year, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited employment discrimination, including discrimination in hiring, firing, promoting and wages. Nontheless, study after study shows the pay gap persisting.

While legislators talk about the need for fuller employment, how can they responsibly ignore the pressing need for paycheck fairness remedies? How can they ignore the important role of working women? The time has come to strengthen laws dealing with the pay gap. Congress could start by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a comprehensive bill to strengthen the Equal Pay Act.

Elaine Sierra is a past board member of the Nevada County branch of the American Association of University Women and past member of the Public Policy Committee of AAUW of California. She has been a member of AAUW for more than 10 years. Copyright (C) 2012 by the American Forum. 4/12

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2 Comments


  1. Elaine,

    I agree with everything but the title of your article 😉
    I’m guessing you meant to write elusive.

    I have made it my mission to help close the gender pay inequality gap and my belief is that we can make a lot of progress on this issue if only we can get women to stand up and demand the fair pay they deserve. It doesn’t have to be a street protest to get results.

    Men are 4 times more likely to ask for a pay raise than a woman is. We desperately need to close the “asking for a pay raise gap” if we want to see any progress on closing the pay inequality gap. I am writing a series of articles on my blog targeted at women to help them negotiate the pay raises and starting salaries they deserve.

    Please check it out if you’re interested. http://www.negotiatingsalary.com

    Happy Negotiating,
    David Larson

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