Mind the Gap

For the past one hundred plus years, equality has become an increasingly important issue. Between the Women’s Suffrage movement of the late 19th century and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, one can comfortably say that things have indeed gotten better for most underprivileged groups. Unfortunately, the work of our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, and mothers is not yet finished. It is up to the women of our generation to keep the momentum going and continue to change the country in hopes of a better life. While there are several women’s issues at hand today, one of the most significant concerns is that of unequal pay.

“In the 21st century, there is just no excuse for this kind of gender inequality,” said Alana Ramirez, 23.

The infamous gender wage gap directly affects women of all ages, racial groups, and backgrounds. In 1963, when women were being paid 55 cents to every dollar a man earned, John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, aiming to abolish wage disparity based on sex. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time, on average, still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. When broken down into racial and ethnic groups, Black women earn 69 cents and Latinas earn 60 cents to the dollar.

Leigh Villahermosa, 24, thinks that “the gender wage gap is an extremely big issue that has plagued this country’s history. America is supposed to be a country of equal opportunity and yet we still continuously apply new ideas to old habits. Women are working harder and persevering more than ever before and yet the glass ceiling still patronizes us from above.”

Although Ramirez has never experienced wage discrimination herself, she believes that it is still present today. “If the U.S. Census Bureau continues to show statistics of women being paid an unequal amount to men for the same types of jobs, it means that the government needs to be taking more action to close this gap,” she said.

The persistent wage gap affects not only women, but entire families. Inequalities in pay mean that women have more trouble paying bills. The problem initially blamed the career choices that women are inclined to pick. Female occupational preferences tend to include the non-profit sector, healthcare, and education, which are lower paid jobs. Despite this tendency, women get paid less than their male counterparts even in industries where they make up the majority of employees.

A study conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 2012, Graduating to a Pay Gap, shows that when men and women attend the same kind of college, pick the same major and accept the same type of job, women will still, on average, earn only 82 cents to every dollar a man makes. The authors of the study purposefully tried to make their subjects as similar as possible, tracking graduates with identical collegiate experiences, limited familiarity with the work world, and without spouses or children. Their results showed wage disparities between men and women in the vast majority of occupations.

There are all kinds of studies conducted by economists, experts, and the Government Accountability Office. They all come to the same conclusion: women are being paid less than men for the same jobs. While education was once a determining factor for this gap, women are now outpacing men in acquiring college degrees but still fall behind in wages. Additionally, the pay gap is much worse for some women than others. As mentioned, Black and Latina women get paid significantly less than their White counterparts. As women age, the wage gap also grows, with younger women more closely approaching pay equity. And although working mothers and wives demand more money to pay the bills, they are more likely to be low earners and have fewer hours in the labor market, with the opposite being true for men. They are seen as less reliable and more likely to take time off for childcare or possible pregnancies. On top of this being a problem in itself, it gets worse for women of color who are statistically more likely to be single mothers and the primary breadwinners.

There are few reasons cited for the gender wage gap. In the 2003 book Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever state that “many women are so grateful to be offered a job…they accept what they are offered and don’t negotiate their salaries” (Babcock and Laschever). The AAUW study also observed this phenomenon, adding that it “may reflect women’s awareness that employers are likely to view negotiations by men more favorably than negotiations by women” (AAUW). Another factor is the assumption that women are more likely than men to have interrupted careers or to work part-time. The most debated reason is that of gender discrimination.

Women have become fed up after decades of being “worth” less than equally educated men. In order to fight this disparity, the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced to the U.S. Congress in November of 2010 and again in June 2012. It was rejected both times. The act would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act, closing loopholes that have made the law less effective over the years. It would also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss salary information with co-workers. In January of 2013, the act was again reintroduced and an action is being awaited. Although the scope of the situation may seem too big, there is something every woman can do: speak up.

Both Ramirez and Villahermosa believe in the power of asserting oneself.

“Don’t continue to let these injustices pave the way for future generations,” Villahermosa said. “We may suffer defeats along the way, but our voice is what will stand the test of time and what will eventually give us our true equal opportunity.”

Ramirez said it is “crucial for women to inform the public of their experience with discrimination so that others can realize that it is real and not just a distant statistic.”

Although it may be hard to believe, people are listening.

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