By Sue Castner, Vision 2020 Oregon Delegate
Equal Pay Day is the point in the year when a woman’s wages catch up to her male counterpart’s wages from the previous year. According to the latest US Census information, on average, women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. In Oregon, it’s actually a little higher at 77.3 cents. Again, no cause for celebration there. For women of color, the statistics are even more dismal. African-American women working full time earn 62 cents and Hispanic women? They earn 54 cents to every dollar paid to their white male co-workers.
What is even more disturbing about these pay disparities is the fact that the gap grows even wider for women with each post-graduate degree. On average, women and their families will lose out on almost half a million dollars over the course of a lifetime. With women comprising over 50% of today’s workforce, this makes equal pay an economic security issue with an undeniable impact on the financial stability for two-income families. The pay gap can no longer be relegated to the political outpost of being “just a woman’s issue.”
Wage discrimination based on sex usually starts with a woman’s first job and grows exponentially from there since pay increases and bonuses are often a percentage of a base salary. With the current state of the economy, so many women are just grateful to have ANY job and the luxury of waiting for the perfect opportunity with the ideal paycheck and benefits no longer exists.
While women have made progress in the past half century, there have also been some pretty troubling indications that this battle is far from over. Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Law was repealed earlier this month with a prominent state legislator labeling wage discrimination a “myth” and proudly declaring “that money is more important for men.” I doubt he’d have his rather antediluvian opinion confirmed by many single, working women struggling in a minimum wage job every day just to make ends meet, just hoping that the money lasts until the next paycheck comes.
Fifty years ago women earned 61 percent of what men earned. At this rate it will take another fifty years – or until 2056 – to reach parity. I’m not sure many of us can wait that long.