By: Allie Valocchi, BS Neuroscience, The Ohio State University, Class of 2022
Lalitha Pamidigantam, YWCA Columbus Policy Analyst
Equal Pay Day, first observed in 1996, raises awareness of the gender pay gap by marking the date the average woman must work to in order to make what a white man made the previous year. Because the pay gap also varies by demographic, different days of the year recognize the different dates that women of color must work to; for example, Equal Pay Day took place on March 24th this year, while Black Women’s Equal Pay Day won’t take place until August 3rd. This serves as a reminder that the average woman makes 82 cents to a white man’s dollar, while the average black woman makes 63 cents to a white man’s dollar. A black woman must work 215 more days, or 5,160 more hours, than a white man to make the same amount of money. In the long term, if a white man were to retire at age 60, a black woman would have to work until age 83 to make the same amount of money during their career—that’s a lifetime of inequality.
The fight for equal pay
The first piece of legislation prohibiting pay discrimination among federal employees was passed by the House of Representatives over 150 years ago. By the time that bill passed through the Senate in 1870, though, it was watered down and applied only to new employees. Ironically, the World Wars proved to be favorable for working women. At the onset of WWI in 1918, the National War Labor Board decided that because women were doing the work that men would typically do, they should be paid the same. A similar phenomenon occurred during WWII; equal pay for women was demanded by male workers and unions (although mostly out of fear that if women were paid less for the same work, male workers’ wages would be reduced when they returned from war).
Despite business leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce openly opposing the bill in fear of women workers’ maternity leave costs and other factors, John F. Kennedy finally signed the Equal Pay Act into effect in 1963. Soon after came the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited the discrimination of individuals on the basis of their race, sex, origin or religion in every facet of their lives, including their wages. When the Equal Pay Act was first enacted in 1963, women made, on average, less than 60 percent of what white men made; in contrast, black women made roughly 40 percent of what white men made. The pay gap steadily shrunk until 2008, but has remained unwavering for the past decade, with the average woman making between 75 and 80 percent of what white men make and the average black woman making between 60 and 65 percent of what white men make.
Barriers to equal pay
Across a wide range of industries—from low-wage childcare and fast-food occupations to healthcare positions—women are paid less than men for the same work. In 2016, for example, a study analyzed salaries of 10,241 doctors at U.S. medical schools and found that, after adjusting for age, experience, specialty, number of patients and amount of research published, male doctors made almost $20,000 more than female doctors annually. Together, conscious and unconscious discrimination by employers and loopholes found in the Equal Pay Act propel pay disparities. As children, boys and girls are fed society’s stereotypes surrounding men and women and their abilities. These stereotypes impact women as working adults, serving to pipeline them into select careers they believe themselves deemed fit for, such as teaching and nursing. These occupations are no less valuable to society than others more often held by men, but the more women that enter a given field, the more the pay goes down. This relates to the overrepresentation of women in low-wage jobs; women don’t simply do the work that doesn’t pay well—the work doesn’t pay well because women are the ones doing it.
Black women and other women of color face information and networking barriers in addition to the ones encountered universally by all women. The information gap reveals that people of color receive less education about wealth and wealth creation than their white counterparts, while the networking gap refers to the disparity between individuals that know the right people in a given industry and those that don’t. Women of color often find themselves at the lower end of these gaps and face a considerable disadvantage in the professional world.
The pandemic’s effects and where we are now
While past economic downturns impacted male-dominated industries the worst, the COVID-19 pandemic produced an economic downturn which closed down jobs historically held by women, such as service-producing businesses, hospitals, schools, and restaurants. As a result, 54 percent of jobs lost during the pandemic were held by women. Because of the historical implications of household unpaid labor, one in four women considered leaving their jobs or downshifting their careers compared to one in five men. Additionally, the decline of the economy has exacerbated conditions of financial inequity for working women.
Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed for the fourth time in the Senate this past June, is critical in closing the pay gap and addressing loopholes intertwined throughout the Equal Pay Act. The bill would require employers to prove why a pay disparity exists within their organization, stop employers from asking employees about their salary history and allow employees to take action if they feel they’re paid unfairly. Through advocating for financial empowerment, YWCA Columbus fights to empower women and eliminate racism. We urge you to contact your legislators to support the passing of the Paycheck Fairness Act and to find out if your employer has signed The Columbus Commitment to ensure all businesses are equipped with the tools they need to support financial equity. If they haven’t, you can reach out to the Columbus Women’s Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and guidance on how to engage your employer, and take a stance against financial inequity for women across Central Ohio.