June 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the federal legislation that required employers to give women and men equal pay for equal work. Newsflash: It’s not working. This golden anniversary is more call for action than cause for celebration because women are still waiting for the Equal Pay Act’s promise to come true.
But don’t think we’re waiting patiently—or silently. And don’t think you are immune from this pernicious problem. The gender pay gap exists for women in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
It exists regardless of whether states have pay equity laws in place that supplement the Equal Pay Act, although several states do not have any specific pay equity law whatsoever. Unbelievably, Wisconsin actually just repealed its equal pay law.
And the pay gap exists in states where governors are doing excellent work on equal pay: Gov. Peter Shumlin in Vermont recently signed stronger equal pay legislation into law, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii and Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota issued Equal Pay Day proclamations this year.
But until the pay gap goes the way of the dodo bird, every state has more to do. That means your governor owes women and families an Equal Pay Act anniversary “present.” And the American Association of University Women has the perfect idea for a gift.
President Barack Obama recently ordered federal agencies to develop plans to address pay discrepancies among employees in the federal workforce, including evaluating policies for setting starting salaries and looking at how to promote greater transparency in starting salaries. Your governor could—and should—order state agencies to evaluate and take action on their pay practices as well.
Your governor should do this because equal pay is everyone’s business. Families and communities are economically stronger when there is fair pay. Every day women nationwide work just as hard only to receive less. On average, women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar, and that number is much worse for moms and women of color. The gender pay gap starts right after college and compounds over a woman’s career. Even after accounting for all the factors that affect earnings, AAUW found that women just one year out of college are still paid almost 7 percent less than their male counterparts are paid. That’s nearly a year’s worth of groceries and 1,400 tall Starbucks coffees. Plus, women vote—and we deserve serious action on the issues we care about.
Statistics tell us that every action available needs to be taken, and the Obama administration has provided a step that governors can take immediately. I’ll leave it up to you as to how you ask your governor for your “present” —Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, letter. But no matter how you decide to do it, I’ll guarantee you one thing. Unlike the Equal Pay Act, the technology you’ll use—even if it’s just a pen and paper—was updated in the last 50 years.
Technology has changed. The workforce has changed. But the federal legislation designed to ensure women are paid equally to men hasn’t changed—and it isn’t working.
Someday, women will celebrate the Equal Pay Act anniversary. But we’ll do so when we get what we were promised: equal pay for equal work.
Lisa Maatz is the vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women.
American Forum 6/2013