It's Time for Equal Pay Now

04/14/2015 05:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015
Shutterstock / Andy Dean Photography

Even though women make up nearly half of the workforce, they still earn just 78 percent of a male's earnings. The average woman loses hundreds of thousands of dollars over her working lifetime as a result of the earnings gap. Think about what women could afford if they earned a fair amount -- college education, housing payments, retirement?

This Tuesday, April 14, marks Equal Pay Day. The date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. That's right; women must work more than four extra months to earn the same about as her male counterpart.

This was a problem when Frances Perkins started her groundbreaking tenure as the first female Cabinet secretary here at the Department of Labor. This was a problem in 1963 when Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, and this was a problem in 1974 when Batgirl told the world she was paid less than Robin. Unfortunately, as we mark Equal Pay Day this April 14, it is still a problem in 2015. We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go. Over 50 years, from 1963 to 2013, the wage gap between women and men has closed by just 19 percentage points and it's estimated that at this rate it will take until 2058 to achieve wage parity.

Despite the passage of equal pay laws, the pay gap persists. There are many factors that create it, including occupational segregation. So as we continue to combat discriminatory pay practices -- a persistent and uphill battle -- and encourage women to aim higher and negotiate better, compensation structures and outmoded expectations about women's contributions in the labor market and the economy counteract progress.

Men still dominate high-wage occupations, even though women are outpacing them in educational achievement. Women are attending college at higher rates than men, but they aren't reaping the full benefits of their advancements. In fact, in 2014, women with advanced degrees earned only 73 percent of men's earnings with the same education, and men with bachelor's degrees earned more than women with advanced degrees.

Higher paying fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics promise a light at the end of the tunnel. However, those who forge ahead in education often face discriminatory practices that make success difficult to achieve on the job. We must continue to promote women's participation in male-dominated occupations that pay more and to raise women's wages in jobs where women are and will continue to dominate, but that is just one part of the solution.

Let's take a look at one of the highest earning occupations in the country -- physicians and surgeons. Women make up 36 percent of workers in these occupations, and are gaining ground in medical school enrollment. Yet women in these fields make 28 percent less than their male counterparts.

One would hope that this issue would be less pervasive in female-dominated fields. Yet women often earn less even in the occupations where they are over-represented. For example, women are 90 percent of registered nurses, but they still make 12 percent less than their male counterparts.

The wage gap varies considerably across occupations, but overall, women earn less than men. The wage gap knows no bounds, and invariably, women are met with disparities in pay in all strata of occupational categories. And occupational segregation, just like wage discrimination, is an issue of inequality. Reducing both inequalities will mean reducing more barriers to economic security and good middle class jobs. This means not only enforcing and strengthening laws, but also promoting systems and practices that value and compensate women as equal participants in the labor force.

As President Obama said a few months ago in the State of the Union Address, "Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. It's 2015. It's time."

To learn more about the department's efforts around equal pay check out