Tomorrow, April 17, 2012, is both Equal Pay Day and Tax Day—which means it’s a very good day to focus on economic fairness and what achieving it would mean for women.
First, fairness also requires closing the pay gap. Almost fifty years after passage of the Equal Pay Act, the typical woman working fulltime, year-round continues to be paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid by her male counterpart—a loss of close to $11,000 a year at the median.To catch up with the wages her male equivalent had been paid by December 31 of last year, this typical woman had to work through April 17. Even after taking into account factors such as occupation, education, and hours worked, women still consistently earn less than men, and this pay gap translates into lower unemployment benefits when women lose their jobs, lower Social Security benefits when they retire, and less ability to meet their families’ needs.
Because more and more families depend in whole or in part on a woman’s earnings, the pay gap doesn’t just shortchange women. It shortchanges everyone. Yet the pay gap persists, in part because pay discrimination is hard to identify and hard to challenge. Most people don’t know what their coworkers are making—and many workplaces prohibit employees from talking about their wages. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which was blocked by 41 Senators from becoming law in December 2010, would make it easier to challenge pay discrimination and help close this gap; until Congress acts, an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against their employees for sharing information about their wages with each other would be an important step toward making pay discrimination easier to identify and challenge.
Economic fairness also requires that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share in taxes. Yet today, as the result of tax cuts and tax loopholes, many of the richest Americans enjoy lower tax rates than middle class workers. For example, in 2009, people with incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 paid about 15 percent of their income in federal income and payroll taxes, while people with incomes over $1 million who received more than two-thirds of their income from capital gains and dividends paid a 12 percent rate. When programs are slashed because the rich are not paying their fair share, women bear the brunt. Women are poorer than men, in part because of the pay gap, in part because they are more likely to be caring for children or other dependents. As a result, when Pell Grants, child care assistance, family planning services, and the like are starved of funds, women tend to feel the sharpest cuts. The Paying a Fair Share Act (S. 2230), sponsored by Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI), would require that all households with incomes above $1 million pay at least a 30 percent tax rate (with a phase-in for incomes between $1 million and $2 million). In other words, it would codify the “Buffett Rule” (named after Warren Buffett, the billionaire who famously pays a lower effective income tax rate than his secretary). The Senate is expected to vote on the Paying a Fair Share Act tonight.
To mark April 17th, Congress and the Administration should seek to create a fairer economy that values women’s contributions and invests in families. Adopting the Buffett Rule and protecting employees who discuss their wages are two important steps in that direction.