06/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Equal Pay Day - The Impact Over a Lifetime

Today marks Equal Pay Day - the point in the year where women's earnings catch up with men's earnings from the previous year. Tragically, poverty for women in old age too often begins the first day they enter the workforce. When they make decisions about the kind of job they will hold, few women understand the consequences that these decisions will present when they retire. Younger women believe this problem is one of the past, but three in five women today still hold sales, clerical, and retail jobs--low-wage positions that frequently offer no pension benefits. Additionally, women across all occupations still receive less pay than their male counterparts with the same qualifications and position. The National Council of Women's Organizations has launched a new site to help women who are being discriminated against.

The average woman now spends 12 years out of the workforce caregiving. That's time she is not vesting in a retirement savings plan or paying into Social Security. Today, many women in midlife are part of the "sandwich generation"--caring simultaneously for small children and aging parents. And, the fastest growing segment of the population today is those 85 and older, making the "sandwich" a triple-decker for many women who are caring simultaneously for grandmothers, mothers, and small children.

Women still earn only 77% of what men earn for the same work --Even 40 years after the Fair Pay and Equal Pay Acts were passed. This wage gap widens throughout women's lives--women between 45 and 64 working full time only earn 70% of what men earn. The disparities only worsen for minority women. On average, this can add up to more than $700,000 lost in earnings for a woman to save and/or invest in her retirement.

Women live an average of 5.2 years longer than men, which compounds all of these problems. Older women living alone are among the poorest in our country with 44% living in poverty. Social Security represents 90 percent or more of income for 45 percent of all older women; Social Security is the only source of income for one of every four unmarried women over 75 years of age.

During past equal pay day observances I participated in bake sales where we sold cookies and brownies to men for $1.00 and to women for .75¢. Some men were highly supportive and others were irate. To the irate men I would respond, "Yes, it is maddening -- if you feel this way about a cookie, think about how we feel over a lifetime."