Why Everyone Should Care
Happy Equal Pay Day, so named because in order to earn as much as men did in 2015, women had to work until April 12, 2016—i.e. today. On average, full-time year-round working women earn just 79 cents for every dollar men earn; for women of color, the earnings disparity is even worse—African American and Latina women earned just 60 cents and 55 cents respectively for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. To learn more about why the gender wage gap exists, check out a video by the Center for American Progress here.
However, the pay gap is not just a women’s issue—it is also an economic stability issue. The wage gap threatens the economic security of families everywhere, making it difficult for families to afford rising costs, pay for their children’s college, and save for retirement. Here are some ways the wage gap hurts the economy:
- Threatens the economic security for working families. Many families across the United States rely on women’s earnings to get by. In fact, in 2012, 63.3 percent of mothers were the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their households. So when women are not paid fairly, the entire family gets hurt, putting the economic security of working families at risk.
- Weakens women’s ability to save for retirement and emergencies. The gender wage gap results in lower wages for women, which makes it more difficult to save. And beyond wages, women on average have lower amounts of the other forms of retirement savings—including 401(k) plans and IRAs—available to them on average. Overall, the gender wage gap leads to less retirement security, which is especially difficult for women as they tend to live longer than men do.
- Prevents reductions in income inequality. Women’s earnings have helped slow the growth in income inequality. Income inequality in the United States would have grown 50% faster since 1963 if married women’s earnings had not increased. In other words, if we want to fight the growth of income inequality, we need to support women’s work by closing the gender wage gap. And since income inequality hinders economic growth, supporting women’s earnings helps the economy.
If the gender wage gap continues to close at its current rate, it is projected to persist until 2059. We need policies that can help improve workplace pay practices and combat pay discrimination, such as promoting greater pay transparency for employees, ensuring pay decisions are business- or job-related, and targeting more robust enforcement efforts at specific industries with higher pay disparities. We also need to pursue broader workplace solutions – such as access to paid leave and raising the minimum wage – that help retain workers when they need to take time away from work, and raise wages in the lowest paying jobs. The Paycheck Fairness Act is one of the legislative proposals that would be a critical step forward in promoting fair pay practices by banning workplace policies that penalize employees for sharing wage information and requiring greater pay disclosure by employers. However, even though the bill has been introduced every year since 1997, Congress has yet to act to pass the bill. Congress should also take action on other legislative measures that can improve women’s economic security, such as raising the minimum wage, requiring paid sick days, creating a national paid family leave program, promoting high quality child care and early learning programs, and ensuring fair scheduling practices.
BOTTOM LINE: Though women today have made great strides past the barriers that blocked previous generations from success in the workplace, there is still much to be done to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. The gender wage gap not only hurts women, it hurts the economic security of working families. It’s time for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to help women and families everywhere.
The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.