Equal Pay Day came and went this week but pay equity is a stubborn problem that demands our attention beyond a symbolic day on the calendar.
We must continue the dialogue. The most recent data (2013) from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that overall, women working in full-time, year-round jobs earn 22 percent less annually than men working in full-time, year-round jobs. And women of color suffer an even larger gap -- with Black women earning only 64 percent compared to white men, the highest earners, and Latinas only 54 percent.
Collectively, the pay gap costs women and families billions, meaning less money to make ends meet today and a less secure retirement tomorrow, as well as less money to contribute to the economy.
Pay inequity is a complex problem, with many contributing factors. Members of 9to5 can tell you about them.
For Yolanda, it's the double penalty on her paycheck of being Latina and a woman.
For Shelby, it's needing to take unpaid time off work to care for her family and falling behind on her rent as a result.
For Nicole, it's welfare laws that make it harder for moms like her to get back on their feet.
For Deb, it's being unable to get a job after she came out as transgender, ending up penniless and homeless.
For Kiki, it's being denied job after job because she's a single mom.
For Lily, it's old-fashioned discrimination, being paid thousands of dollars less than her male co-workers for the same work.
Some pundits claim that the pay gap is due to women's choices. But while women may choose to work in professions like nursing, teaching or child care, we don't choose to struggle economically as a result. The reality is that jobs done predominantly by women are valued and paid less than jobs done predominantly by men, even when they require the same level of skills, effort and responsibility, and have comparable working conditions. Those who care for our children are paid less than those who care for our cars.
Also, because women are still responsible for two thirds of family caregiving, we are penalized in our paychecks when we don't have access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and other flexible workplace policies. And even after controlling for these factors that affect pay and are directly connected to gender, like occupation and hours worked, one-third of the pay gap remains.
There are many policies that will help close the pay gap. It's long past time for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, to strengthen existing equal pay laws and protect all workers from retaliation when they share wage information. Basic information about pay is critical for working women and people of color to know if we are being paid fairly so we can take action if we're not.
But it's not just about the Paycheck Fairness Act. Other solutions are also needed. Women comprise two-thirds of workers earning minimum wage or below, and 22 percent of minimum wage workers are people of color. Raising the minimum wage would mean more economic security for working women, people of color and the families we support.
Legislative proposals that would allow workers to earn paid sick days (the Healthy Families Act) and family and medical leave (the FAMILY Act) are especially important for women. These policies would ensure that we don't have to risk our paychecks or our jobs to welcome a new baby or take care of an ill family member or our own health.
There are many common-sense steps lawmakers can take now to achieve economic security for women and families. When women do well, our families, communities and local businesses do well. It's time for our elected officials and political candidates to take a stand and take action to combat gender and race pay discrimination, to ensure that women and families have the money we need to make ends meet and contribute to the economy by maintaining basic spending levels on food, rent, repairs and other necessities. The time is now.