April 28 is the national observance of Equal Pay Day, the day when women and men around the country recognize the wage gap between workingwomen and men, and offer remedies to address pay inequity. According to statistics released in September 2007 by the U.S. Census Bureau, women are paid, on average, 78 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid, a gap of 22 cents.
Here in Maine workingwomen do better than the national average. We are paid about 83 cents on the dollar compared to men, partially because men’s pay in Maine is lower. That’s hardly a cause for celebration, when women and our families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dol-lars over a lifetime.
There were 68 million women in the work force in 2005, a significant increase from 18.4 million in 1950. This year women are projected to comprise 48 percent of the labor force. With more women in the work force, and more families reliant upon women’s paychecks for their livelihood, the U.S. must address the wage gap for the sake of American families and their financial stability.
Here are four ways to close the pay gap:
First, we need to keep affirmative action programs in place to make sure education, jobs and promotional opportunities are open and offered to qualified women.
Second, employers must examine and correct their pay practices. Employers can get help in examining their pay practices through equal pay self-audit guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Third, women must stand up for equal pay and for themselves. If a prospective employer cannot show that women and men are paid equally for the job you’re seeking, it makes sense to look elsewhere. Positive signs include a hiring process that seeks diversity through affirmative action, written pay and benefit policies, job de-scriptions and evaluation procedures. A union for workers is another good sign. Women in unions earn 35 percent more than women in nonunion workplaces.
Women who are paid less than men must discuss the problem with their employer. If there’s a union ask its help. If discrimination persists, file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission or with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
A fourth way to close the pay gap is through federal legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act. That’s not a solution popular with employers, but it may be necessary. For employers who continue to pay women less, legal penalties or EEOC action may be the only remedies.
Pay equity is a growing national movement. States around the country are introducing pay equity legislation and women continue to recognize the importance of this legislation. Pay inequity penalizes families especially during times of economic hardship so we must address it when trying to boost the economy. At the rate we are going, the wage gap will not be eliminated until 2040. Women and their families cannot afford to wait that long.
Sandra Carter, a Mary Kay consultant, is president of Maine Business and Professional Women. She lives in Ellsworth.