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Equal pay for equal work

Tuesday, April 12, 2016, is the national observance of Equal Pay Day, the day when women and men around the country recognize the wage gap between working women and men and offer remedies to address pay inequity. According to national statistics released in 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau, women are paid, on average, 79 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid—a pay gap of 21 percent.

Here in South Carolina, working women do a little better than the national average and are paid about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, a pay gap of 20 percent. That’s hardly a cause for celebration, when women and our families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Consider a South Carolina woman who started work in 1986 at $20,000 a year and earned annual pay increases at the rate of inflation. After 30 years she would have earned over $202,000 less than her male counterpart. When men and women are doing comparable work, that’s just not fair. 

The pay gap exists for women at all levels. Women with advanced degrees and high paying, high skill jobs experience a gender wage gap that is just as real as the gap for workers overall. And once you factor in race, the pay gap for women of color is even larger. White women are paid more than African American and Hispanic women at all education levels, and Asian American women are paid more than white women, according to a study of Census data by the American Association of University Women.

With more families relying on women’s paychecks for their livelihood, the U.S. must address the wage gap for the sake of American families and their financial stability. According to data from the U.S. Dept. of Labor, U.S. men’s civilian labor force participation rate declined from over 86 percent in 1950 to around 69 percent in 2015. U.S. women’s civilian labor force participation increased from over 33 percent in 1950 to nearly 57 percent in 2015.

The National Committee on Pay Equity recommends several ways to close the gender pay gap:

First, the public and private sectors need to keep affirmative action programs in place to make sure education, jobs and promotion opportunities are open and offered to qualified women.

Second, employers must examine and correct their pay practices. The U.S. Department of Labor provides equal pay self-audit guidelines for employers.

Third, women must stand up for equal pay and for themselves. Women looking for a job or a promotion should negotiate their salary based on what their skills are worth. If a prospective employer cannot show that women and men are paid equally for the job you’re seeking, it makes sense to look elsewhere. Positive signs includes a hiring process that seeks diversity through affirmative action, plus written pay and benefit policies, job descriptions and evaluation procedures. If gender-based wage discrimination persists in your job, file a complaint with the S.C. Human Affairs Commission or with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pay equity is a growing national movement. States around the country are introducing pay equity legislation and women continue to recognize the importance of this legislation. Pay inequity penalizes families especially during times of economic hardship so we must address it when trying to boost the economy. At the rate we are going, the wage gap will not close for another 50 years. Women and their families cannot afford to wait that long!

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