Women, on average, earn only 78 cents to a man’s dollar, but women in the Seattle-area face an even higher wage gap.
IT was 1943. Our country was at war, women were filling job openings left by departing soldiers, rotary dial telephones were the norm and a computer’s weight was measured in tons.
That same year, Washington state passed the Equal Pay Act — 20 years before the federal law was enacted.
Fast forward to today.
Women now comprise nearly half of the paid labor force, touch-screen phones are everywhere and computers fit in the palm of your hand.
Times have changed, but we haven’t yet made the changes we need to ensure that women are paid more than spare change.
The numbers don’t lie: On average, nationally, women earn only 78 cents to a man’s dollar. But women in the Seattle area face one of the highest wage gaps in the nation. Further, while some studies show women without children make about 90 cents to a man’s dollar, all studies show that the 81 percent of women who have children experience big wage hits. Moms earn only 69 cents for every dollar earned by dads, and women of color in Washington state earn as little as 46 cents to a man’s dollar.
Despite this, Washington state’s Equal Pay Act has not been updated for 70 years.
Having children negatively impacts a woman’s wage-earning potential. This is particularly alarming when you consider that three-quarters of moms are in the labor force and moms are primary breadwinners in 40 percent of all households. Reduced salaries also reduce retirement savings, leading to greater poverty in retirement years.
We are addressing the wage gap now, but progress is slow. At the current pace, our daughters will suffer a similar wage gap. A recent study found that one year out of college, young women are already earning less than equally qualified young men in many occupations.
Don’t be fooled by common myths. The wage gap isn’t primarily because women take lesser-paying jobs. In fact, wage differences within the same occupations account for most of the pay gap between men and women. Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard University, found that after controlling for age, race, hours and education, women who are doctors and surgeons earn 71 percent of men’s wages. Female financial specialists earn 66 percent of men’s wages.
We all lose when women don’t get equal pay for equal work.
When women don’t have adequate funds to spend, the impact is felt across our economy, from “big box” stores to small businesses on Main Street. After all, women make three-quarters of purchasing decisions, from food and clothes to furniture and cars.
Ignoring the economic power of women hurts our families, our businesses and our larger economy. In fact, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that U.S. gross domestic product would grow by 3 percent if women were paid as much as men.
During strained budget times, raising women’s incomes to parity is good policy for the state, too. Equal pay would save taxpayer funds by lowering families’ needs for government programs, from child-care subsidies to food stamps.
No single policy will close this pay gap. But simple policy changes, like those in the Equal Pay Opportunity Act updating the 1943 law, would make it easier to identify and challenge practices that have discriminatory results. Protecting workers’ rights to discuss compensation and prohibiting retaliation for doing so are key provisions to help level the playing field.
It’s 2015 — a far cry from the policies and economy of 1943. It’s time for Washington to step up again. Everyone should have the opportunity to earn equal pay for equal work.