04/16/2012 11:04 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2012

We're Number One, But We're Not Cheering

Women working full time in Washington, D.C., have the biggest paychecks in the nation thanks to an average yearly salary of $56,127, according to the American Association of University Women's (AAUW) new state-by-state data.

That's not a bad place to be -- until you see that men who work full time in the District of Columbia earn $61,281 a year.

AAUW's gender earnings ratio ranking, which is based on U.S. Census data, has D.C., Maryland, and Virginia in the first, sixth, and 19th spots respectively. It was released for Equal Pay Day, the symbolic point at which women's salaries finally "equal" what their male counterparts earned in 2011. In other words, women's wages never catch up -- not when women in D.C. earn, on average, nine percent less than their male counterparts, women in Maryland 17 percent less, and women in Virginia 21 percent less.

While there isn't a single explanation for why some states are better than others when it comes to equal pay, we can say that, generally, the disparities are related to industries, occupation mix and business climate, among other factors. In D.C., the wage gap may be narrower in part because one in three people work for the government, which tends to have a smaller wage gap than the private sector.

Across the nation, people will mark Equal Pay Day on April 17 in various ways. Some will hold rallies or wear red to symbolize how women's wages are in the red. At AAUW headquarters located in downtown D.C., we will host an (un)happy hour to help raise awareness of the continuing wage gap, especially in light of the recent headlines that claim women will soon overtake men as the wealthier sex. Change is around the corner we're told. Unfortunately, the truth is that women are far from earning wages equal to men's, let alone surpassing them.

The wage gap also has serious implications as women age. Lower paychecks mean lower retirement earnings. Women are far more likely than men to spend their later years in poverty; her wage disparity starts as soon as she throws her cap in the air at graduation and grows bigger with time.

The pay gap costs working women and their families tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages. Nationally, among all full-time workers, women earned just 77 percent of what their male counterparts earned -- an average difference of more than $10,000 in 2010. The numbers are worse for women of color. African American and Hispanic women earn just 70 percent and 61 percent of what white men earn, on average.‪

We hope that everyone takes notice. After all, this is a family issue. Women's incomes accounted for 36 percent of total family income in 2008, up from 29 percent in 1983, and about one-third of employed mothers are the sole breadwinners for their families.‪

Equal pay is simply about fairness -- on tax day, on Equal Pay Day, and on every day of our working lives.