If you saw more women wearing red than usual last Tuesday, it wasn’t a new wear-red-on-Tuesdays fashion trend. April 20 is an important day for Women’s Rights Advocates because it’s the National Committee on Pay Equity’s Equal Pay Day. By wearing red on April 20, women—and minorities—all over the U.S. symbolize that they are “in the red” with their pay compared to men.
Although women have come a long way in gaining pay equity we still have a long way to go. According to a CNN report, women earned on average 79 cents for every dollar men earned in 2009. Hispanic women, however, earned only 59 cents per dollar earned by the average man in her field. Asian women are at the top of women’s earnings compared with men, earning 89 cents per dollar.
Women’s pay equity has a colorful history. During World War II, many women joined the labor force working in factories to help the war effort. In 1942, the War Labor Board ruled that women must be paid the same rate as men. The war ended before the law could be enforced, leaving women with unequal wages for equal work. Male and female senators from both the Democratic and Republican parties tried again in the 1950s to pass equal pay legislations, but their efforts yielded no results.
But the 1940s and 50s efforts paved the way for the great changes that came in the 1960s and 70s. The Equal Pay Act passed in 1963, mandating equal pay for women for equal work. One year later, in 1964, the Civil Rights Bill passed, banning employment discrimination among women. In the late 70s, 20 women’s professional organizations and unions formed the National Committee on Pay Equity to educate, lobby, and build coalitions on pay equity.
The battle for equal pay continued through the 1980s and 90s with the County of Washington v. Gunther Supreme Court case that mandated fair pay for prison workers and labor strikes around the country. The results yielded fair pay regulations for a variety of sectors, including 911 and federal workers and the Fair Pay Act. In light of the most recent statistics, however, women still have yet to achieve equal pay for equal work.
In honor of Pay Equity Day, here are some key facts about pay equality:
- It has taken women 47 years to close the pay gap 20 cents, a rate of less than ½ a penny per year.
- If women received equal pay, it would result in an extra $318 billion income gain for women and their families.
- Women are still clustered into “pink-collar” jobs that lower their wages. Pink collar jobs are low-wage, low-skill professions considered to be traditional women’s work. These professions are rarely occupied by men: babysitter, maid, receptionist, waitress, librarian, elementary teacher, and hairdresser, among others.
- Although women’s choices regarding work (decision to raise children, for example) are traditionally seen as factors in wage inequality, pay discrimination on this basis is considered workplace discrimination and is illegal.
If you didn’t wear red this year on Equal Pay Day, show your feminist spirit by wearing a bright red dress next year. But better yet, take action now and host your own Equal Pay Day at work, attend a rally, or send a message to your senator to take action!