By: Brittany Alexander
Many young women in this generation believe they live in a world in which men and women are treated equal. Unfortunately, that world does not exist. It has been nearly 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and yet a significant gender pay gap still persists.
It is puzzling to see that in 2012 women still earn a mere 77 cents to the dollar of what men earn. For women in minority groups the gap is even wider. African-American and Hispanic women earn 70% and 61% of what Caucasian men earn. Then we have single women who are hit even harder, because they do not have any male income in their households. This wage gap costs working women and their families more than $10,000 annually and jeopardizes women’s retirement security.
There are laws in tact such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which restores fairness for workers who want to use federal law to challenge cases of discriminatory pay; however, it only addresses one segment of the big picture. More progress has to be made.
State Representative Cory Atkins, House chairwoman of the Caucus of Women Legislators, said “Until we get to the stage that every woman is making the same amount of money as a man for the same job, we have not achieved equality.’’
Women and families need paid sick days and paid leave. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the U.S. is the only country among 22 countries ranked highly in terms of economic and human development that does not guarantee that workers receive paid sick days or paid sick leave Under current U.S. labor law, employers are not required to provide short-term paid sick days or longer-term paid sick leave. As a result, each year millions of American workers go to work sick, lowering productivity and potentially spreading illness to their coworkers and customers. Workers who are forced to stay home without pay because of illness lose income. These loses can take a toll on women, who are more likely to have care-giving responsibilities.
Paycheck discrimination is not the only obstacle preventing women from having the same economic opportunities as men. As families depend more on women’s wages, eliminating wage discrimination is also critical for middle class economic security. Women make up nearly half of all workers on US payrolls. In fact, now more than ever women are the primary breadwinners for their families. If these primary breadwinners earn lower incomes, it won’t just affect their families, but also consumer spending and our larger financial growth.
At the federal and state level, men and women must fight efforts to repeal equal pay laws and support increases in the minimum wage. All these issues affect individual financial health and the strength of our collective economy.