In honor of Equal Pay Day, April 12, President Barack Obama dedicated a new national monument to women’s equality, and urged Congress to pass legislation requiring employers to show that disparities in income are not based in gender.
The new Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument will mark the iconic house that has served as the headquarters for the National Woman’s Party since 1929.
From this building, members of the party led the movement for women’s equality, authoring more than 600 pieces of federal, state and local legislation in support and pursuit of equal rights.
President Obama has made addressing the pay gap between men and women a constant goal throughout his two terms, his most notable accomplishment coming within his first year with the signing of the Lily Ledbetter Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009, which significantly expanded a woman’s ability to litigate perceived issues of unequal pay.
With Equal Pay Day now behind us, it is important to continue to pursue and work to resolve this pervasive issue. According to the most recent estimates, women on average will earn roughly 79 cents for every dollar a man earns for equal labor.
There are several factors that can influence this inequality, such as fundamental occupational differences between men and women and career interruptions due to childrearing being more predominant amongst women, decreasing overall their lifetime earnings. While these dynamics and others cannot be ignored when discussing the issue, they are simply not satisfactory in terms of justifying these pay discrepancies when looking at the problem holistically, realistically, and genuinely.
Simply, persistent gender-based pay inequality is a net loss for our nation. Not only does this dynamic directly and indirectly impact the total economic capacity of the United States in both practical and theoretical terms, it depresses wages and salaries across the board, contributes considerably to national, regional and local poverty levels, and further exacerbates the already outrageously disproportionate distribution of income within the United States.
On a large scale, ensuring equal pay for equal work reaps immediate benefits, namely significantly increasing consumer spending and combating poverty levels.
As the U.S. economy is predominantly driven by consumer spending, which accounts for approximately 70 percent of all economic growth, most estimates report that ensuring equal pay for equal work would facilitate real growth on a scale larger than the largest economic stimulus bill in the nation’s history, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, by growing the economy roughly 3 to 4 percent from the increased incomes, and thus the increased levels of consumer spending, alone. Additionally, ensuring equal pay for equal work would cut the percentage of working single mothers living in poverty, currently about 30 perent, in half.
On an individual basis, equal pay would help eliminate lifetime differences in pay. Over the course of a 35-year career, a white woman with a college degree will make about $1.2 million less than a white man with the same level of education. For women of color, the discrepancy is even worse.
In 2014, African American women in the U.S. earned 63 percent of what white men in this country were paid. Latina women earned roughly 54 percent.
Women of color are also less likely to have access to conveniences like, paid sick and family leave and flexible work schedules, all of which compound and complicate the systemic economic hurdles they face.
It’s not only an economic injustice to deny these hard-working women equal pay for equal work, but a moral injustice as well, and does nothing to reinforce the notion that America is a nation that truly values and prioritizes equality.
Passing legislation to ensure equal pay for equal work would perpetuate economic growth on an unprecedented scale, and do more on a personal basis for those earning unjustifiably low wages than we can possibly imagine.