POLITICS
04/11/2016 05:44 pm ET

Wage Gap Costs U.S. Women $500 Billion A Year, Report Finds

Even divvied up among all working women, that's real money.
Unequal pay for female soccer players should highlight the larger problem.
Jessica Hill/Associated Press
Unequal pay for female soccer players should highlight the larger problem.

The wage gap between full-time working men and women in the United States short-changes women by nearly $500 billion per year, according to a new report from the National Partnership for Women & Families. 

To put it in individual terms, if women earned as much as men, each woman with a full-time job would be able to afford an additional seven months of mortgage and utilities, or 1.6 years worth of food, annually. 

Just a timely reminder for Equal Pay Day, which hits on Tuesday this year. The event marks how many additional days women would have to work into the new year to make what men earned in just the previous year.

The National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonpartisan group, analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data. It found that the wage gap is holding firm at 79 cents, which is how much women are paid for every dollar that men earn. 

While some of the difference can explained by women taking jobs with lower salaries or working fewer hours -- although why they do that is another discussion -- the gender wage gap persists across job sectors, educational degrees and experience levels. From top-paying occupations to lower-paying fields dominated by women -- such as education, social services, nursing and clerical work -- men consistently earn more. Another study found that the average starting salary for a female physician is $16,819 lower than that of her male colleagues, and that the disparity could not be blamed entirely on differences in hours worked, choice of specialty, geographic location or many other factors affecting wages. 

As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and others emphasize the equal pay issue in their campaigns, Democratic women in Congress are pushing to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill aims to close loopholes in and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It would penalize employers who retaliate against workers who ask for or share salary information with each other, require employers to justify why a woman is paid less than a man with the same job, and allow women to sue their employers for punitive damages if they discover pay discrimination based on gender. 

“Equal pay is not just for our pocketbooks; it’s about family checkbooks and getting it right in the lawbooks," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) in a statement to HuffPost on Monday. "The Paycheck Fairness Act ensures that women will no longer be sidelined, redlined or pink slipped when fighting for equal pay for equal work.”

Mikulski is leading the effort in the Senate to pass the legislation.

But Senate Republicans have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act three times and proposed equal pay legislation of their own. A bill from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) would protect female employees' right to ask how their salary compares to that of their peers without fear of retaliation, but the proposed Workplace Advancement Act lacks other protections in the Democrats' legislation. 

"Unfortunately, the Democrats’ overreaching proposal could hurt women in the workplace by imposing rigid compensation structures that fail to accommodate unique work arrangements," Fischer said in a press release last week.

On Equal Pay Day, the Democratic National Committee and a few female lawmakers plan to sell lemonade outside the U.S. Capitol. Women will be charged 79 cents a cup, while men have to pay a dollar.  

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