Commentaries posted do not necessarily represent the opinion of LDN.
 Any opinions expressed are those of the writers.

Close the pay gap; we've waited long enough          Send a link to a friend

By Linda Tarr-Whelan

[May 05, 2007]  More than 35 years have passed since women wore pay gap buttons saying "59 cents." Funny how inflation works. We earn more now, yet women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The gap remains and, according to National Committee on Pay Equity, it's even worse for African-American women (72 cents) and Hispanic women (58 cents).

Women are still effectively losing at least one out of every four paychecks.

The cost of the wage gap is felt first and foremost by women themselves, but it doesn't stop there. Discriminatory wage policies cut into family budgets and affect who can buy a home or send a child to college. The pay gap for working women reaches deep into family pockets; 62 percent make half or more than half the family income.

We've waited long enough. It isn't right for almost half our work force to be undervalued. It's also not smart economics or politics.

Women are doing their share; we've gotten more education and filled the classes for doctors, lawyers and MBAs. But the gap persists. Based on the median earnings for full-time year-round workers, white male high school graduates earn on a par with black and Hispanic women who are college graduates.

Women have met other tests the experts said were why we were paid less.

First, more women are working in traditionally male occupations -- but that doesn't help; the wage gaps there are even larger than the average. Second, most women with children have not left the labor force for family reasons; two-thirds of women with small children are in the work force -- whether they want to be or not. Still the pay gap persists.

Women, on average, have to beat some heavy odds to be paid like men. There are only four jobs where women make slightly more than men: special education teachers, order clerks, electrical and electronic engineers, and miscellaneous food preparers.

Why is progress so difficult to make? Simply put, it is not a priority.

Current decision-makers -- usually men -- are not concerned enough to act. In every field, the higher up the ladder you go, you'll find fewer and fewer women. Congress is still 86 percent male, and 98 percent of the chief executive officers in Fortune 1000 firms are men.

We need different leadership, and that means more women. When there are more women top managers, working women's salaries go up, according to a recent study by Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[to top of second column]

Half our work force has to work harder and longer to make ends meet. That doesn't make sense, and it doesn't need to be the case. There are some practical steps that can be taken to close the pay gap.

We need more leadership by women public officials to create policy change.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Rosa DeLauro have introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in the House and Senate, which will have some ability to positively improve the wage gap issue. The initial step must be to protect employees who can be, and are, punished for comparing salaries (serving as a powerful damper on organizing for equity); to require accurate employment data; and to vigorously enforce the Equal Pay Act, passed in 1963, which requires that women and men doing the same job are paid equally.

But there needs to be more grass-roots leadership to organize and mobilize in local communities to determine what disparities exist and press bosses for corrective action. Evelyn Murphy, author of "Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men -- And What to Do About It," is organizing groups of women -- now in 16 states and on a number of campuses -- to share salary information, as a first step to moving upward. This new group, Wage Project, has a calculator on its website,, for women to see how much they lose in pay over a lifetime due to the pay gap.

The 117 million working women and their families can't wait 50 more years for equal pay; that's what the current rate of progress of a half-cent per year means. Instead, with women leaders at the forefront, we must be smart: Women and men must be paid equally for equal work.


Linda Tarr-Whelan is a senior fellow at Demos, a think tank, and a former ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. She is writing a book on the difference that women's leadership makes.

[Text from file received from American Forum]

Click here to respond to the editor about this article.


< Recent commentaries

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor