Note: an updated (February 2017) version of this op-ed can be found here. DPE’s Professional Women: A Gendered Look at Inequality in the U.S. Workforce fact sheet provides additional information about the wage gap.
By Paul E. Almeida, President, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
June 4, 2003
In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed by Congress and became the law of the land. In short, the law prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who are performing similar work under similar conditions. Each year since this law was passed, the Department of Labor has issued a report on the gap between the pay of men and women. Why? Because, despite the law, the gap has not disappeared. In fact, in some cases, the gap has increased in recent years. For example, the gap between the pay of professional men and women increased by 3% between 1995 and 2001. Why? I am left with the only logical conclusion one could reach: “Women don’t deserve equal pay.”
After all, aren’t women a small part of the workforce?
No, over 65 million women are employed and makeup almost 47% of the labor force.
Aren’t women always taking time out of work to have children?
No, in fact even among women with children under the age of one, almost 60% of them work either full or part-time.
Aren’t women typically in low paying service sector jobs?
No, today women find themselves in managerial, professional, technical and administrative support positions. In fact, 73% of working women are employed in white collar jobs.
Aren’t women working for a second income so the family can have a few extras around the house?
No, actually working outside the home is no longer an option for most women, regardless of race, age and marital status. Both parents were employed in 65% of married-couple families with children under the age of 18. Since 1960, there has been a substantial increase in the number of families maintained solely by women.
Aren’t women less educated, earning lower degrees, earning less advanced degrees and aren’t their degrees in soft subjects compared to their male counterparts?
No, college enrollment of women has increased by more than 35% between 1976 and 1996, and now exceeds that of men.
No, women have been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men since 1982.
No, women have been earning more master’s degrees than men since 1981. They earned more than 45% of the first professional degrees conferred in 2001, up from 2.6% in 1961 and women earned more than 42% of all doctoral degrees in 2001.
No, more women than men entered law school in 2000, and the proportion of women to men in medical school has increased from 5.8% in 1960 to 45.7% in 2001.
We have a law on the books that was enacted in 1963 to address a wrong. However, by all indications, the situation that gave rise to the law is not much better today than it was 39 years ago. Today the pay gap for women is 26.6% for professionals and 25.9% for technical and related support compared to their male counterparts. In 1983, the first year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has occupational information, the gap was 27.4% for professional and 29.4% for technical and related support women.
The one very difficult issue to quantify is what, or how much, does a woman lose by taking time out of her work life to have children? Only about 25% of the pay gap can be attributed to this factor, meaning the gap would still be close to 20%. I believe the argument is a red herring. Tell me the last time you were told by a dentist that his hygienist had taken time from work to have a child and therefore he was discounting her services? Tell me the last time you saw a woman lawyer who had taken time off to have a child and the law firm discounted her services? Tell me the last time a nurse, school teacher, sales clerk, rental agent … Is that enough? Do you get it? It doesn’t happen.
So, who wins and who loses by having this practice of unequal pay? Well, it’s obvious who loses: Every working woman loses along with her family. But what may not be so obvious is how much the government loses as well. Assume 50 million women work; assume they earn $30,000 yearly; and assume the pay gap is 25%. The lost revenue to the federal government would be in the range of $125 billion in taxes, $38 billion in FICA, $7 billion in Medicare, and the states would lose in the range of $20 – $30 billion yearly.
So, who wins? There is only one answer: corporate America wins, and wins big. By suppressing working women’s wages, they maximize their profits and pay less to the government in taxes, and pay less in employer contributions to pension plans for all women. This has to be the best kept secret in Washington. It also must be the most lucrative corporate welfare plan ever.
No job in our nation requires less experience than that of Senator or Member of Congress. All you have to do is get elected. From day one, a newly elected woman senator earns the same salary as her male counterpart with 5, 10, 20 or more years experience. Why? Because it is the law. Perhaps if the women in Congress earned 26.6% less, something would be done about this gross injustice. Maybe they should earn 26.6% less?
More than 2000 years ago Plato said, “If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.” Since women are now taught the same things as men and do the same work as men isn’t it about time they were paid the same wage?