Give her a raise!

Women’s Equal Pay Day puts the spotlight on income disparities for female workers.

By Kevyn Burger
Tuesday, April 12, 2016

 Imagine if half the workforce — the female half — got an annual pay raise of $10,800.

That’s what would happen if the nation’s gender pay gap would immediately — and miraculously — close.

An exhaustive new report on the gender pay gap, produced by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee does the math on the fact that women working full time, year-round earn 79% of what men earn, based on median annual earnings.

The JEC report calculates that the difference amounts to $10,800 in a single year, and approaches a half a million bucks over the course of a career.

Lower lifetime earnings means a stingier pension or Social Security payment, so the cost of the gap continues to gnaw away at women’s retirement income beyond their working years.

April 12 is the 20th annual marking of Equal Pay Day, a date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. The National Committee on Pay Equity created the event 1996 to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages.

“We have made progress in closing the pay gap, but it has stalled out in the last decade,” says Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

It may come as little comfort, but the gap is not quite as broad for Minnesota’s female workers as it is for their sisters across-the-board. Based on 2014 U.S Census Data, Minnesota women earn an average 81.6% of what their male counterparts earn; the national average is 79 cents.

Minnesota ranks 17th in the U.S. for pay parity. (No state has achieved parity; the closest to it is in Washington, D.C., where women earn 90% of what men do. At the bottom of the list is, Louisiana, where the rate is 65%).

“No doubt, women have done their part to close the gap. They’ve gotten educated, with higher rates of college degrees than men, they’ve stepped up in the workplace,” says Fitzpatrick. “In Minnesota, 80% of women with children under the age of five are employed, that’s the highest rate in the nation.”

Fitzpatrick would like to see allies step up and push the case for equal pay.

“The two pieces of the puzzle that need to change to finish off this battle are men and the workplace, and that’s inter-related,” she says. “Men need to contribute to desegregating our workforce and to object to the institutional barriers that aren’t fair to their wives, daughters and mothers. The workplace needs to have more progressive policies that allow women to advance.”

Fitzpatrick cites one area where gains have been made: the state’s 2014 Women’s Economic Security Act, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

“This law requires contractors that do business with the state to certify that they are following equal pay laws. That is a best practice in addressing wage disparity,” she says.

The national pay gap has been cut in half from a generation ago, but the plateauing of progress means that women will have to continue to be patient in their efforts to see parity.

A 2015 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimated that, at the current rate of progress, women will achieve equal pay in the year 2059.

That means 43 more years of noting Equal Pay Day.