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Equal Pay

(November 1, 2012) Women Need To Demand Equal Pay

As of Equal Pay Day, April 17, 2012, which highlighted the extra 108 days women would need to work to earn what men earned in 2011, it is clear that the laws put in place to bar gender-based wage discrimination in the U.S. are not working.

Nationally, women who work full time are paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. African-American women are paid 62 cents, and Latinas are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to men. The gap has been closing at a rate of less than half a cent per year since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, according to nonprofit advocacy group The National Partnership for Women & Families. At this rate, women's pay will not catch up to men's for another 40 years.

"Women need to demand equal pay," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "Women are the most significant economic engine in the U.S. Pay women equally and it would raise the GDP by up to 9%."

What Women Could Afford If They Earned Equal Pay For Equal Work: Nearly $800,000 In Retirement Savings
(based on a 25 year career)
Women working full time, year round in the U.S. earn a median annual salary of $36,931, compared to men's $47,715. That means American women earn $10,784 less than men each year. A National Partnership analysis shows that if that gap were closed, women in the state of Washington could buy an additional 1.7 years' worth of food; Colorado's working women could afford 2,746 more gallons of gas; women in Wisconsin could afford 14 more months of rent; and Connecticut women could pay for 3.7 years' worth of family health insurance premiums.

"With state economies struggling and women increasingly serving as the sole or co-breadwinners for their families, tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages each year takes a tremendous toll," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership. "This new analysis illustrates just how much harm the wage gap does to women and families throughout the country."

In the state of New York, women as a group lose $24.3 billion each year due to the wage gap, and more than $600 billion over their careers. If they rolled that discrepancy into an IRA for 25 years, New York's women would each have an extra $750,000 saved for retirement, according to a Bankrate calculator.

Gillibrand, New York's Democratic junior senator, is working to push through the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was recently reintroduced after it fell two votes short of moving forward in the Senate in 2010. "It's illegal to discriminate against women in pay," she said, "and if we have better enforcement mechanisms, we can hold more companies accountable."

The bill would create more transparency by allowing employees to openly discuss and share wage information without fear of retaliation, one of the primary challenges faced by Lilly Ledbetter, who inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed in 2009.

"We're not very transparent in this country–I'd give it a D+," said Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the American Association of University Women (AAUW). "It is legal in many sectors for employers to prohibit their employees from talking about wages. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would be a huge step in the right direction, but Congress can't seem to pass a plate, let alone a piece of administration."

Men will need to champion the issue. According to nonprofit group Catalyst, men continue to hold the majority of leadership positions in the country. In the largest public companies in America, men are 96.6% of CEOs, 92.5% of top earners, 85.9% of executive officers and 83.9% of board members. Men control 83.2% of Congress and 83% of the Senate, with no female head of state on record.

Many are stepping up. "Un-equal pay is un-American," said Tom Abinati, state assemblyman of New York. Said Sen. Joseph Robach: "All individuals, including women, should be treated equally in the workplace. This means equal opportunities for jobs and employment as well as equal pay."

To individual women, Gillibrand advises that you know your value, negotiate your pay, speak up, help other women and don't be afraid to fail.

Article was originally published on Forbes and written by Jenna Goudreau. Follow Jenna @Jenna_Goudreau, and subscribe to me on Facebook.

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