Originally posted on Higher Heights for America’s website.
It’s Equal Pay Day, April 14th. Equal Pay Day is the symbolic date that marks the time in the year when the wages of women who work full time, year round finally catch up to the wages of men. The date is pegged to the overall wage gap for women—when the wages for all men and women are compared, women make just 78 cents on the dollar.
That overall statistic masks even larger disparities for women of color. African American women are paid a whopping 64 percent of the salaries paid to their white, male counterparts. This pay gap, which amounts to a loss of $18,650 a year, means that African American women have to work nearly 19 more months—almost until the end of July—just to make as much as white, non-Hispanic men did in the previous year alone.
Here are five more facts about the wage gap that are equally stunning:
The wage gap for African American women crosses every occupation. Even when working in higher paid fields, African American women make far less than their white male counterparts. African American women working as physicians and surgeons—a traditionally male, high-wage occupation—make just 52 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. These gaps highlight that education alone will not close the wage gap.
The lost earnings are felt deeply by women and their families. On NWLC’s site, mywagegap.org, we’ve asked women to tell us what they’d do with an extra $11,000 a year. A woman named Myriam said she would finally get the dental work she’s been “postponing” for 35 years. We heard from a woman in Oregon who said she would pay her student loans off and start a savings account. Others raised groceries, rent, and savings for retirement as targets for their wage gap reimbursement. One response gave me chills—she wrote, “I would get a divorce.” African American women are typically shorted $7,000 more a year—imagine the difference that income would make.
If we do nothing about the wage gap, it will take over 40 years to close. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently gave us a target for closing the wage gap if we continue along the same path, and it isn’t pretty. My friends over there have predicted that the wage gap won’t close for over 40 years. That means that even if we reach Jetson status (and let’s face it, we’re getting close now that my kids Facetime with the grandparents), women will still make less. As others have put it, Blue Ivy will be almost 40 and we’ll be settled on Mars before then. But the latest predictions on the wage gap will only become a reality if the current trends persist.
The pay gap problem is longstanding, but it has solutions. Sometimes when problems are really big, they may appear to lack solutions. The wage gap is big—especially for women of color—but we should not be discouraged because there are real solutions. To begin with, we can improve our pay discrimination laws and raise the minimum wage. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a bill that has been around for nearly 20 years—there is no good reason that it isn’t yet the law. And the minimum wage hasn’t been raised in nearly a decade. We can do better. We can support women who are working and caring for families. There are bills, like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Family Act, and the Schedules that Work Act that address the discrimination women face when pregnant or caregiving, and support those who need leave, predictability and stability for themselves or their families.
States are moving to close the wage gap. In the last two months, policymakers in states around the country have launched comprehensive measures to close the wage gap. I see you California, Washington, Maryland and Georgia! The momentum at every level gives me confidence that we will see those Equal Pay Days changing much more rapidly than predicted.