Seven decades ago, women’s rights scored a very significant victory. In France starting on Oct. 21, 1945, women were allowed to vote for the first time. It was an incredibly important moment in the women’s suffrage movement, which up to and including that point had seen historic accomplishments throughout the world, particularly within Europe and the United States.
While women have goneextraordinarily far in securing essential rights and fundamental freedoms since then, there are still areas where they have regrettably not come far enough. Equal pay for equal labor is one such area.
Currently, women earn on average about 78 cents for every dollar that a man earns for equal labor. Certainly, there are a couple of justifications that folks will use to try and explain away this discrepancy. These include women voluntarily choosing fields and jobs that may simply pay less than those that men typically choose, bringing down averages across the board, or women taking considerably more time off of work than men specifically due to childbearing.
While these explanations cannot be ignored when discussing the issue sensibly, they are simply not adequate when looking at the problem holistically.
While outliers exist, they are not so overwhelming or plentiful as to unilaterally claim responsibility for the wage gap that exists and has existed between men and women. It is my belief that we should not settle solely on rhetoric, and should instead expressively combat the real and serious issue of gender-based pay inequality.
While action has been taken, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, more can and absolutely must be done. In the abridged words of the United States Congress, gender-based pay inequality accomplishes the following – “depresses wages and living standards, prevents the maximum utilization of all available labor resources, causes labor disputes that burden, negatively effect, or obstruct commerce, threatens the free flow of goods in commerce, and constitutes an unfair method of competition.”
In addition to the aforementioned negative consequences of the wage gap between men and women, there is a markedly moral pressure and prerogative to addressing this issue as well. It is simply impossible to legitimately argue that is just, ethical, or morally sound to tolerate pay inequality between men and women. This is a blatant wrongdoing that we, a society that upholds above all else equal protection under the law for all of its citizens, must correct and correct irrevocably.
In terms of economics, the gender-based pay gap directly and indirectly impacts, among many others, total output and Gross Domestic Product, wages and salaries, and national, regional, and local poverty levels. Over the course of a 35-year long career, an American woman with a college degree will make about $1.2 million less than a man with the exact same level of education. Closing that gap by equalizing wages between men and women would have a robust stimulus effect that would, according to various estimations, grow the economy by at least 3 to 4 percent.
In contrast, the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in 2009 to address the 2008 financial crisis is estimated to have grown GDP by less than 1.5 percent.
Consider for a moment that simply leveling the playing field between men and women in regard to wages would have a greater impact than a stimulus package designed to counter and reverse the nation’s second-worst economic decline in history.
In terms of raw wages and salaries, a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that female full-time workers had median weekly earnings of $706, compared to men’s median weekly earnings of $860. Women aged 35 years and older earned anywhere between 74 to 80 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts.
Among younger workers, the differences between women and men were noticeably smaller, with women 16 to 24 earning roughly 88 percent of men’s earnings in the same age group. To believe that women, who are increasingly more educated, more actively engaged, and more equipped than ever before of taking on jobs that have historically been seen as boys’ clubs, such as upper management or finance, deserve to earn as low as three-fourths of a man’s paycheck is baseless and reprehensible.
Moreover, addressing pay inequality between men and women would hold worthwhile benefits regarding national poverty levels on a large scale, as well as on a case-by-case basis.
Currently, women are the primary breadwinners in over 40 percent of all households, with most of these homes hosting children under the age of 18 who are almost entirely dependent on their mother’s income. Simply doing the right thing and ensuring hard-working women who, entirely on their own, support entire families is something we absolutely must do.
As women currently make up almost 70 percent of Medicaid recipients and roughly 80 percent of general welfare recipients, this would not only be an overall economic boon, but also a substantial relief on various social welfare programs. Furthermore, ensuring equal pay for equal work would cut the percentage of working single mothers living in poverty, currently about 30 percent, in half.
Collectively, that is potentially millions of folks with more disposable income ready to spend and stimulate the economy, while simultaneously demanding less from social welfare programs. As consumer spending is the engine that powers the economic locomotive, the effects of such action would be explicit, substantial, and exceedingly worthwhile.
Ensuring equal pay for equal work would perpetuate economic growth on an incredibly large scale, and prove to be nothing but a societal net gain. Simply put, the time has come to conclusively bridge the wrongful earnings gap between men and women.