The Gender Wage Gap

March 21, 2017

From a young age, girls are told that their work is not as valuable. “In the sixth grade, we all had to write this opinion paper. Most wrote about things like why we should be able to chew gum in class - I wrote about why women should receive equal pay.” Gillian Jacobs, an acclaimed actress, and feminist wrote (“Equal”). Eventually, those little girls turn into women and are forced to deal with injustice daily when they receive a paycheck. Of course, there is no problem when receiving that paycheck until it is compared to a man's when he is working the same job. In most cases in the United States, that man is earning 10 to 30% more money than a woman for the same work. The gender wage gap has been a problem throughout American history and it continues to be a problem in the current day.

Women and men have been trying to close the gender wage gap for many years. There are many people with very strong opinions on this topic, some of which have made large impacts on this problem. As early as 1883 workers at the Western Union Telegraph Company went on strike to get equal pay, among other things, the strike was ultimately unsuccessful. In 1914 an important step was taken in this issue. Men were moved to jobs to support the war and women were now doing ordinarily men’s work. Since the women were only filling the positions short term most of the wages were kept the same so that when the men returned they would receive their full wage immediately. Once women had earned men’s wages they realized the injustice that they were experiencing, because of this equal pay for equal work became a strong idea in both world wars. 

Following the world wars the push, for equal pay did not lighten and women sook justice. When JFK signed the Equal Pay Law on June 10, 1963, the problem was supposed to be solved. The law was active on June 11, 1964, and yet over 4 decades later the wage gap is still an issue. In 2012 women still only earned 77 cents to a man’s dollar (Altar). “It’s amazing to me that, in the 42 years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, women today still receive fewer wages than men for the same work.” Mike Honda, American Politician (“Equal”). The government has not only been slow to act on the problem, they are also included. In 1869 there were 500 women employed in the U.S. treasury department and they were only paid half as much as the men working in the department. Many different women have tried to get the government to help solve this problem.
When women seek help from the government in this issue it is not often that they receive it. One woman who did receive help is Lilly Ledbetter. Lilly was an employee at Goodyear who was paid 15 to 40% less than her male counterparts. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was then introduced. This act allows victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint to the government within 180 days of their last paycheck. The act was signed in 2009 by President Obama. Lilly’s act is not the first to be requested, but it is still one of the few that have been approved.

President Obama requested that salary information, including race and gender, be turned over to the Labor Department. Knowing this information would allow the government to monitor salaries and take more action against wage discrimination.  Obama’s request was denied, mainly by Senate Republicans (Rowen). Another bill was shut down in the Senate in 2014. The bill would allow workers to discuss their wages without any retaliation from their employers. The recent lack of change and new laws has many women worried that this new president will leave women’s rights in worse condition than before.   

The idea of adding laws and bills is not new, women have been fighting for an Equal Rights Amendment be added to the constitution for over 4 decades. The amendment would make it illegal to deny any gender equal rights in any state of the United States. It would equalize the pay for women across the country and make it so that the wage gap is closed. The Amendment does not appear to be getting any closer to being in the constitution, who knows when or if it will be added.

Without the amendment in place women in all areas of the United States experience this injustice, but some places are better than others. There is no law in the United States that makes the payment difference between men and women consistent in each state. When women consider where they want to live the average wage gap in several states may play a large role in where they decide to live and work. In New York, women make 88.7 cents to a man’s dollar. New York has the smallest wage gap out of all the states. On the other side of the coin, Wyoming can be looked at. Wyoming has the biggest wage gap with women being paid 64.4 cents to a man’s dollar. Here in Iowa, the average falls in middle ground. Women are paid 76.7 cents to a man’s dollar in Iowa. Not only does the wage gap affect all women, but it affects women of different ethnicities even more. African American women are paid 60 to 67 cents to a man’s dollar and Latina and Native American women make only 50 to 60 cents (“The Wage”). Women have to keep in mind all of these factors when deciding what they want to do with their life, while men do not.

Not only have women experienced injustice when being paid less than their male equals, but also discrimination in job settings because of their gender. Until the 1960’s job listings were particular to gender. Employers would only want women doing the certain job, which was typically low paying, long hours, and tedious work. Over many years of fighting, women did earn some coverage in-laws and acts. In 1978  the Pregnancy Discrimination act protected pregnant employees. The act only covers women with normal objectifiable pregnancies. The act states that if you are employed in a workplace with 15 or more employees you can be covered by this act. The act says that a pregnant employee cannot be fired for filing a complaint if they believe that their employer violates the PDA. You cannot be bypassed for a promotion because you're are pregnant under this act. You don’t have to tell potential or current employers that you are pregnant. It is, however, legal to treat a woman differently if she is pregnant and unmarried. The religious aspect of our country allows for them to be treated differently because some religions see premarital sex to be wrong.(Scott) In 1991 the Medical Leave Act followed the PDA and allowed parents of both genders to take work off, which lightened the load for women in difficult family situations. These two acts may not have closed the wage gap, but they were important steps for women’s rights.

The injustice seen when women are paid less than men is not only a political problem, it is a moral problem. Paying women less money makes them feel as if their work is worthless and that ultimately they are worthless.  “When we pay women less than men we’re telling women their work isn’t as valuable. We’re all equally valuable. And we should be paid equally.” Maria Shriver, an American journalist, and activist (“Equal”).  The number following the dollar sign on the checks to women means more than a number, it means equality is still not being reached.

President Obama stated “It’s not a myth, it’s math.” while discussing the signing of the Lily Ledbetter act (Dann). The gender wage gap is a problem thought to have been solved many years ago by a man of power signed a paper.  “A man is still likely to earn more money than a woman, even one doing the same job. You have a far better chance of entering a political office or becoming a company director... Women are responsible for two-thirds of the work done worldwide, yet earn only 10% of the total income and own 1% of the property... So, are we equals? Until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking.” Daniel Craig, actor and male feminist (“Equal”). The discrimination against women can’t be signed away with a signature of a man wearing a suit. Women and men need to fight to solve these problems together so they shall be everlasting. One of the biggest ways women face discrimination is in paychecks. The gender wage gap is a very real problem in most parts of the world, including the united states. The history of this problem is long and will continue into our future, but what have we done to solve this problem and more importantly what can we do in the future to solve this problem once and for all?

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