Equity pay makes “cents” … that’s an understatement. In fact, for women in the workplace, pay equity would increase lifetime earnings by as much as $2 million for those with graduate degrees and by more than $1 million for those with undergraduate degrees.
That would mean more money to pay off student loans, put food on the table, and save for retirement. And pay equity isn’t just a women’s issue—it’s a family issue. Research shows that half of all households with children include a mother who is either the sole or primary breadwinner for her family. Pay equity is more than just a matter of fairness and common sense; it’s a key to helping families make ends meet.
As a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), I’m writing about the gender pay gap because April 4 is Equal Pay Day: the symbolic day when women’s pay finally “catches up” to the wages that men took home the previous year. The date represents the fact that women working full time, year-round in the United States are typically paid just 80 percent of what men are paid for equal work, which is a gap of 20 cents on the dollar. For Hispanic or Latina women, the gap is even larger: in 2015, they were paid only 54 percent of what white men were paid.
AAUW is a leader in the fight to end today’s gender pay gap and open doors for women in the workplace. Its research—such as The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap and Graduating to a Pay Gap—document the extent and persistence of that gap. The Obama administration provided us with new tools to fight for pay equity, such as prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share salary information and requiring employers to collect more compensation data related to gender and race. In 2016, the White House also launched the Equal Pay Pledge to encourage businesses to actively pursue equal pay initiatives.
However, White House support will likely be harder to come by with the Trump administration. And the truth is, we need legislation, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and Fair Pay Act, to substantively advance gender pay equity. The Paycheck Fairness Act would expand the scope of the Equal Pay Act, and the Fair Pay Act would require employers to provide equal pay for work of equal value, whether or not the jobs are the same.
Until such federal laws are passed, each state will continue to operate under antiquated regulations and piecemeal state and local laws to combat unequal pay. Although the New Mexico Fair Pay for Women Act was passed in 2013, we are still waiting for test cases in the courts to define its scope and relevancy as a means for enforcing pay equity in our state.
Closing the gender pay gap remains a major challenge. While women made great wage gains in the 1980s and 1990s as they entered the workforce in record numbers, over the last 15 years, progress on closing the gap has stalled. In fact, based on data trends since 2001, AAUW researchers predict that it will take more than a century—until 2152—to close the gender pay gap. We have serious grassroots lobbying work to do, at the state and national levels, if we are to close the gap sooner. AAUW members will continue to fight for strong pay equity legislation.