Why we wear red on April 12

Though there have been gradual improvements in narrowing the gap between what men and women earn, progress has slowed


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Here is a simple truth: The pay gap, the difference between what men and women are paid in the U.S., is real. Equal Pay Day marks the day this year when women’s pay catches up with what men were paid last year! In 2016, Equal Pay Day fell on April 12. To symbolize this continuing pay inequity, women wear red, to show the urgency of developing a solution to this persistent issue.

Women working full time in this country are typically paid just 79 percent of what men are paid. And though there have been gradual improvements in narrowing the gap (it was 59 percent in 1974), progress has slowed in recent years. Why is that the case?

According to one study, when males and females have equal college graduation backgrounds, one year after graduation males earn 7 percent more than females. Among full-time workers 10 years after college graduation, there is a 12 percent unexplained difference.

For men and women with a high school diploma, the gap is 23 percent. For those with less than a high school diploma, the difference is 20 percent. In other words, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education.

Becoming a parent affects women’s earnings. A “motherhood penalty” not only has an impact on a woman’s income because of time off for having a baby, but there is documentation that shows employers are less likely to hire mothers compared to childless women, or mothers are offered lower salaries than other women. One study shows that many fathers actually receive a wage premium if they have children.

Pay gaps exist in nearly every occupational field, but jobs traditionally considered male fields, such as computer programming, aerospace engineering and firefighting, pay more than fields dominated by women, such as office and administrative support, sales and service occupations. Occupational gender segregation has decreased over the last 40 years, but even when women enter typically “male” jobs, such as computer engineering, a pay gap persists. And in a once typically “female” occupation, nursing, female nurses earn only 90 percent of male nurses wages.

Race and age are further components of pay inequity that beg for political solutions. For Hispanic women, earnings are 89 percent of Hispanic men’s earnings, but are only 54 percent of white men’s earnings. Within the African-American workforce, women earn 90 percent of men’s earnings, but only 63 percent of white male earnings.

The gender pay gap grows with age. Full-time female workers in the 20-24 age group are paid 92 percent of what men are paid weekly; but workers who are 55-64 years old are paid 76 percent of men’s median earnings.

In New Hampshire, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, full-time, year-round male workers’ earnings were $55,617 and women’s were $42,052, or 76 percent of men’s. New Hampshire is 40th on the ratio scale.

As we consider these disappointing figures, it is useful to review what has already been done to confront the pay gap. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed, requiring employers to give employees “equal pay for equal work.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination in employment hiring, firing, promotion and wages on the basis of numerous characteristics, including sex. In 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act provided additional protection. However, since 2010, the Paycheck Fairness Act has been languishing in Congress. As a result, in 2014, President Obama signed executive orders on equal pay, banning retaliation against workers who talk about their salaries, and to help identify patterns of discrimination and support voluntary compliance.

In 2015, an Equal Pay Law was passed in New Hampshire, which included a non-retaliation clause. Legislators here apparently understand that pay equity is a family issue, not just a women’s issue. But at both the state and federal level, it has been clear all along that laws and regulations are needed; pressure on employers or the hope for voluntarily ensuring pay equity for men and women for equal work have not come easily.

Proof of the power of gender differences in pay is the recent action by the U.S. women’s national soccer team. The team filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requesting an investigation of the habit of paying men’s national teams more than women. The motive for the suit, said the women leading the investigation request, was “equality” as well as “monetary gain”. “Respect” is what we want, they added. When we wear red on April 12th, that is what we are calling attention to: Our society succeeds economically and ethically when we have equality and respect.

Pat Yosha of Exeter is a member of the NH Women’s Foundation’s Leaders Network.

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