Happy Equal Pay Day?

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Today is Equal Pay Day, the day when women’s annual wages finally catch up with what men made through December 31 of the last year. Currently, women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar, so it takes them an extra 114 days (that’s nearly 4 months) to catch up to men’s wages.

It’s important to note that the 77 cents figure is not, as Carrie “I’m too rich to work” Lukas’ insidious Washington Post editorial suggests, due to Ivy League-educated, rich women “choosing” to stay home with their children. The 77 cents figure is only for women working full-time, year-round and is partially due to women making trade-offs—e.g. flexible work hours—at the expense of higher salaries.

Fully 1/4 of the wage gap, maybe more, is due solely to workers being female. The recent Walmart sex-discrimination lawsuit is a great example of how women are being paid less for doing the same work as men, or alternately, are not being promoted at the same rate as men despite being equally qualified.

So why are women paid less? Well, it’s certainly not because they’re less educated. Women now make up 58% of undergraduates, and do better scholastically than men. Female college students dominate honor rolls, hold more leadership posts, study more, are more involved in student clubs, and logically, are distributed more awards and honors.

But even with superior education, women’s wages slip further and further from men’s after graduation. One year after graduation, women working full-time earn 80% of men’s wages, in part because they choose lower-paying, traditionally “female” fields like healthcare and education. Ten years after graduation, women are only making 69% of men’s wages. Even after accounting for hours worked, parenthood, and job choice, the gap remained.

Sadly, even the most elite of workplaces are not immune to sex discrimination and harassment that often prompts women to leave or file lawsuits. From Smith Barney to Walmart, women are paid less for doing the same job. And despite the fact, says AlterNet, that the wage gap “consistently polls number 1 with female voters in election years,” it’s only been addressed significantly by one 2008 contender: Hillary Clinton. Her Paycheck Fairness Act aims to make employers responsible for promoting and paying employees equally, regardless of sex, by increasing penalties, teaching women negotiation skills, and allowing employees to share salary information.

Speaking of sharing salaries, just for fun, ladies, you can see how much you would make if you were a man here.

—Jen Phillips

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Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

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