As a man with a wife I love, daughters, sisters and other women in my life who I adore and value deeply, I have always been at a loss to understand the profound and abiding animus our society has for women in general. For years, we’ve been witness to repeated attempts by policymakers to maintain the status quo by refusing to even consider legislation that would bring about parity in the amount of money men and women take home.
Recently, a federal appeals court promised to do the same thing, ruling that employers are permitted to set an employee’s pay based on their past salary. That actually sets a rather dangerous legal precedent that could pose deeply problematic and sinister consequences for generations of women already suffering from a debilitating wage gap.
Already, according to the Pew Research Center and other studies, women make up more than half the workforce – but for every dollar a White man made, a White woman earned 82 cents, an Asian woman received 87 cents, a Black woman garnered 65 cents and a Latina received 58 cents. Further, women usually find themselves relegated to traditionally low-wage sectors like fast food, restaurants, home health and domestic care. Too often, a woman’s gender is enough to have her placed at the lowest rungs on the workplace ladder which has a direct effect on her salary or wage. That’s aggravated by a $10,000 wage gap between men and women.
The implications for this stark wage gap are significant. Single mothers head or are the primary breadwinners in about half of all low-income households with children in the U.S. That amounts to more than 4.7 million families. And female-headed households, particularly those led by women of color, are more likely to be food-insecure and live in poverty than other U.S. households. In recent studies, almost 40 percent of working mothers reported that the gender pay gap contributes to the poor living conditions, inadequate nutrition, and restricted opportunities for them and their children.
The lack of economic parity means that they’re working harder and longer for less pay. In the District of Columbia, women are 48 percent of the workforce – yet, only take 42 percent of the wages. That means too many women, especially Black and Brown women, are constantly juggling the money that they take home to pay rent, buy food, take care of utilities and other responsibilities.
Where is the concerted effort, the steady pressure from concerned men and women and the political will to strike down or push aside those structural and other barriers? Whatever we’re doing, whatever’s been done is not enough.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which overturned a Supreme Court decision which mandated that employees could not bring a salary discrimination lawsuit against a company if more than six months had passed since the initial wage discrimination occurred or even if it had continued.
The act prohibited gender-based discrimination and allowed women to fight back against discrimination in the workplace regardless of when it began.
But in late March, the current administration reversed the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order through an executive order of its own.
In the present political and social climate, the fight for fair pay and the opportunities that should be open to everyone regardless of gender is a long way from over. By some estimates, it will take 169 years for us to close the economic gender gap globally. Supporters of equal pay have made progress but have also suffered a number of setbacks.
Despite the pushback, it is important to remind people that women comprise 53 percent of the US population. They are the majority.
In the interest of fairness and commonsense, every man and woman should get equal pay for equal work. Society, from the top on down, must be more sensible, generous and compassionate when it comes to removing the myriad roadblocks placed in front of women. We must work diligently to make it easier for women to gain access to jobs, promotions, training and related opportunities.
It is foolhardy to do otherwise because in hurting women, we hurt ourselves and our children. What’s the sense in that?
George H. Lambert, Jr. is the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League.