Davis: The more I explore pay equity, the more depressed I become

Herald-Leader columnistApril 22, 2010 

Tuesday marked the day when we women finally finished earning the same amount that our male counterparts had earned in 2009, some four months ago. It was designated Equal Pay Day, and as far as I can tell it passed through Lexington unnoticed.

I remember when there was a point in the year, usually in April, that people could point to and say that before that date we all were working for the government and after that date we were working for ourselves.

There would be outrage on radio talk shows and complaints that the government and taxes were far too intrusive in our paychecks. So where is the outrage for the inequity in women's pay?

Women in general earn about 77 cents for every $1 men earn. For me and other black women, the gap is worse. According to statistics, we earn some 68 cents for every $1 a white male earns. Hispanic women earn 57 cents.

That discrepancy doesn't seem to have a thing to do with education levels, either.

The latest numbers released by the U.S. Census for 2009 show 29 percent of women have a bachelor's degree compared with 30 percent of men. And, because women outnumber men overall, that means some 1.2 million more women have a bachelor's degree than their male counterparts.

So why do we still earn less if we have equal educations? The more I explored this subject, the more depressed I became.

The Equal Pay Act has been on the books since 1963, when women were earning 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. So, in the ensuing 47 years, that law has increased our pay only 18 comparative cents. One estimate targets 2057 as the year women will earn the same pay for the same job.

That is embarrassing. That's less than half a penny a year. Please.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has been trying since 1997 to get paycheck fairness legislation passed. She said the bill has been approved twice by the House of Representatives but has met with resistance in the Senate.

DeLauro's Paycheck Fairness Act would close some legal escape routes in the original legislation that businesses have taken to excuse pay inequity. Businesses no longer would be able to retaliate against workers who share wage information, and the legislation would provide new monitoring tools for the government.

This is not just a gender issue. Pay inequality is not only discriminating against women, it is hurting men and families as well.

Since the economic downturn began in 2007, "men have lost three-out-of-four jobs" which leaves "millions of wives to bring home the bacon while their husbands search for work," according to "A Woman's Nation Changes Everything," a report published last year by California first lady Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.

The report points out that women are now the "breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of all American families." Our paychecks are not just gravy anymore. Our pay is essential to our families' well-being. When we earn equal pay for equal work, everyone benefits.

So, now is the time to act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is sitting in the Senate waiting for a groundswell of support from all of us. It's called S182 there. It was HR12 in the House.

The next time you see one of the men vying to be a senator from Kentucky, ask him how he will vote on S182 if given the chance.

Better yet, call Sens. Mitch McConnell, (202) 224-2541, and Jim Bunning, (202) 224-4343 today and see whether they plan to show more than half their constituents they are worthy of equal pay. This is long past due.

Reach Merlene Davis at (859) 231-3218 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3218, or mdavis1@herald-leader.com.

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