It’s that time of year again. You might be thinking tax season, and technically you’d be right. However, there’s another important date to circle in April: Equal Pay Day. Every April 8, the conversation about equal-pay-for-equal-work starts up again–but this year, Washington may finally take action.
As early as today, President Obama is expected to issue two executive orders that would focus on pay disparities and hiring practices. Essentially, one order would bar any federal contractor from taking negative action toward employees discussing pay. Additionally, employers will be required to hand over compensation data to the Labor Department. This data will detail employee wages by race and gender, with the intention of discovering actual wage discrepancies, rather than hypotheticals.
Congress is also deciding whether or not to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this week. Attempts at passing the act have already failed twice in previous years, and with only 52 co-sponsors today, the chances of Paycheck Fairness getting a third try are relatively slim. Which is why Obama has his executive orders poised and ready for duty.
This move toward transparency should make it easier to fight unequal pay. “Today, women who work full-time, year-round still make 77 percent of what similar men make, and progress has all but stalled for a decade,” writes Bryce Covert at The New Republic. Further, “about half of American workers are either expressly barred or strongly discouraged from discussing pay with each other,” she writes. These numbers are also more equal among federal workers, offering further support for Obama’s focus on federal contractors.
Still, Obama’s action will only affect a portion of the workforce, and it certainly cannot solve wage discrimination based on gender or race. The hope is that, as some industries become more equal, a ripple effect will occur, spurring the economy. On the other hand, future presidential or congressional action can reverse these actions.
So, why is equal pay so important? Because wages equal power.
Focusing on the gender gap for a moment, PolicyMic breaks it down. “Thanks to the gender gap, life is 33% cheaper for a full-time, year-round male worker than it is for the average woman. In other words, men have 33% more spending power.”
But, can’t women, like, ask for raises? It’s not that simple. “A 'mommy industry' pressuring women to work harder at being moms sets women up both for more exploitation in the home and for the need to spend more money on products—a win-win for capital, and lose-lose for working women,” writes Sarah Jaffe at In These Times. This means women are essentially working more, making less, and also in need of more disposable income to purchase goods for home, work, and sometimes baby.
Fixing the wage gap is more than an interpersonal, worker-employer problem. It’s more than a “women can have it all” problem. It’s a policy problem, and it affects the entire economy. “Public policy has to improve, employers need to be much less punitive of workers who need time off or flexible schedules,” writes Jaffe, “and people have to keep fighting gender stereotypes and the behavior patterns they influence.”
If women compose half of the American workforce, isn’t it time they are compensated as such?
Photo: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia