As you can see from Jessica Alba’s smiling face above today is an important occasion. It’s National Equal Pay Day, a time for us to not only acknowledge how far we have to go but celebrate how far we’ve come as working women in the United States.
The concept behind National Equal Pay Day, which was established in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity [NCPE], is an interesting one. The day traditionally falls on a Tuesday in April because A) this is the day of the week a woman’s earnings equal a man’s earnings from the previous week and B) it symbolically illustrates how far into the year a woman must work to earn the same amount made by a man in the previous year. While the annual occasion may be a tad stylized, what is valid is the fact women are still paid on average 77 cents for every dollar men earn. For African American women, that figure is only 63 cents. Latinas earn even less, with just 53 cents for every dollar.
Each year the President declares a Proclamation regarding National Equal Pay Day (which is interesting, considering even in the White House female staffers are paid 87 percent of the earnings of male staffers). President Obama touched on the disparaging numbers last year.
“Women make up nearly half of our Nation's workforce and are primary breadwinners in 4 in 10 American households with children under age 18. Yet from boardrooms to classrooms to factory floors, their talent and hard work are not reflected on the payroll. Today, women still make only 77 cents to every man's dollar, and the pay gap is even wider for women of color. Over her lifetime, the average American woman can expect to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars to the earnings gap, a significant blow to both women and their families. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, we must use all of America's talent to its fullest potential -- because when women succeed, America succeeds.”
While the chasm between men’s and women's wages requires women to work longer hours to earn the same amount as men, we have made significant strides in recent years. One example is the encouraging statistic that the current unemployment rate for adult women, at 4.9 percent, is now lower than for adult men, at 5.1 percent. Now it’s finally time for our paycheck to reflect how hard we’re working and match our male counterparts.
With Hillary Clinton announcing this week she will seek the presidency for a second time, pay equity is sure to be at the top of her agenda, along with other issues important to women like paid family and medical leave, a higher minimum wage and affordable access to child care.
We also have the support of popular websites like AskMen.com, who are encouraging male readers to help bring attention to National Equal Pay Day and donate 22 percent of their salaries today to UN Women’s movement HeForShe (http://heforshe.org). While it’s an initiative ambitious at best and a little patronizing at worst, anything aimed at bridging the gap is welcome.