The Truth About the Pay Gap

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By Alicia Williams

For the longest time, I naïvely thought wages were equal for everyone. I assumed that two people performing the same job and producing the same outcome would be paid the same. Seems like common sense, right? It wasn’t until later in my life that I learned about pay inequality and the negative impact it has on women. Creating a more egalitarian work environment has been a primary focus of the women’s rights movement for decades, but we still have far to go.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, women on average make a whopping 23 percent less than men while performing the same job with the same level of education. This report takes into account occupation, parenthood, majors, and hours worked to show that women working full-time are already starting to make less–7 percent less, in fact–than their male counterparts just one year after graduating from college. Women with the same credentials are doing the same work and producing the same outcomes, but are being paid completely different wages. Skeptics might argue that the 7 percent difference isn’t really an issue, and doesn’t need to be addressed. But the fact of the matter is, that wage difference comes into play immediately after graduation, almost always within the first year. The percentage in wage difference rises as women move up the ranks to hold higher positions of authority. I’m pretty sure that those who benefit from gender-based wage disparity, and think that 7 percent isn’t a big deal, wouldn’t be willing to give up that extra income. Think about the women who are currently performing the same jobs as men, with equal qualifications and levels of success in the positions they hold, struggling to pay off student loans and make ends meet. According to the article, Graduating to Pay Gap:

“Among full-time workers repaying loans one year after college graduation, more than half of women (53%) compared with 39% of men were paying more than what they could reasonable afford toward their debt.”

Women are having a harder time getting themselves out of debt, just one of the many statistics that provide irrevocable proof that  the wage gap is still alive and thriving.

The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap found that on average, women are paid 10 percent less than men before the age of 35, which rises to 20-25 percent over the span of their lifetime. While men are accessing promotion opportunities at a younger age, women are often stuck in the same position they were in ten years ago. Kerri Sleeman from Michigan shares her story about working at a mechanical engineering firm as a supervisor. She learned that almost all the men that she was supervising were getting paid more than she was. Sleeman tried to pursue a raise, but was told salaries were non-negotiable. Even though she had an impressive track record, her employer was a firm believer in men being the primary breadwinners for their families. The wage disparity that Sleeman endured meant she was unable to pay for her husband’s heart surgery, couldn’t help her parents with their retirement, or refinance her house. This is just one story among thousands of other women who have been discriminated against by their employers.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (2009) proposes a solution to pay inequality. 207 House co-sponsors and 55 Senate co-sponsors are needed to strengthen incentives to encourage employers to pay female employees fairly, and empower women to fight for the wages they deserve. But this bill was blocked again by Republicans in the Senate just last month. The Democrats needed 60 votes to pass this bill, and fell short with 52-40 votes. According to The Hill:

“A woman who performs the same work as a man should be paid the same as a man. Senate Republicans simply cannot accept that notion. American women deserve better.”

Clearly, Republicans in the Senate think this is a waste of time and that there are more important matters they need to attend to.

When I was younger, I knew that gender-based pay inequality existed, but it wasn’t until I started doing more research that I realized how bad it actually is. In my view, this is a critical women’s rights issue that needs to addressed immediately. We deserve to be treated as equals under the law. But time and again, the interests of privileged white males prevail. As educated individuals preparing to enter the work force, college women should have a vested interest in working to highlight and combat wage disparity. The National Committee on Pay Equity provides a great starting place for college-based activism around this issue, and the Women’s Center offers educational programming around Equal Pay Day. The next Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 14, 2015. This date symbolizes how far into 2014 women must work to earn what men earned in 2013. Get involved and let’s start fighting for our right to fair and equal wages!

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