On Equal Pay Day 2023, annual recognition in the gender wage gap shows little change, but, at least federally, some are taking action to close it.
March 14 is Equal Pay Day, the day that symbolizes when women have caught up to what men earned the previous year. Though it may seem more like Equal Pay Groundhog Day, considering the snail’s pace of progress.
Nationally, women working full-time earn 83.7 cents on the dollar compared to what men earn, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. That’s less than a penny’s progress from last year’s 82.9 cents. And that’s the sunniest view. Statistics are calculated differently by different sources, but the general consensus is women earn 82-83 percent of what men do, similar to last year’s numbers.
In New Hampshire, women who work full time earn 76 to 79 cents on the male dollar (depending on the source). The U.S. Census ranks the Granite State 40th in the U.S. The wage gap in New Hampshire hasn’t narrowed in recent years, despite a state law that requires companies to pay women of equal qualification the same as men.
At the federal level, those looking for ways to close the gap are taking action. Legislation in the U.S. Senate, as well as programs specifically tackling wage discrimination for both gender and race, are in the works in Washington, D.C.
The number is even lower for women of color. Nationally, Black women are paid 63 cents and Latina women 55 cents each for every $1 white men make. A woman working full-time year-round makes more than $400,000 less than her male counterparts over the course of their career. The wage gap hurts women’s ability to save for retirement and reduces their total Social Security and pension benefits, making older women more likely to live in poverty, those supporting legislation that would close the gap point out.
In recognition of Equal Pay Day, and the fact that the gender wage gap remains stubbornly wide, the Paycheck Fairness Act was reintroduced Friday in the U.S. Senate. If it becomes law, it would allow women to challenge pay discrimination and hold employers accountable, eliminating pay secrecy and strengthening the available remedies for wronged employees.
But don’t hold your breath.
The PFA was also introduced in the previous congressional session. And the one before that. And the one before that. And every one since 1997. It usually dies in committee, though in 2007, 2019 and 2021, it was passed by the house, only to not get anywhere in the Senate.
When it was first introduced in 1997, the goal was to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was designed to bring gender equality to pay. The women born that year are now nearing retirement age, and still not being paid the same wage for the same work as their male counterparts.
The latest iteration of the congressional session’s iteration of the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced by Senate Democrats, including New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. Shaheen said in a news release Monday that she hopes the Senate will consider the PFA and finally take action on closing the gender wage gap.
“Nearly 60 years ago, legislation was passed making pay discrimination illegal,” Shaheen said in a news release. “Yet women, particularly women of color, continue to experience a pay gap in the workplace to this day. This massive discrepancy grows with each passing day and holds women and their families back.”
She said that as the country recognizes Equal Pay Day, “It is time we match our message with action and ensure our laws reflect our values. It is past time that equal pay for equal work is the law of the land. This legislation will do precisely that by protecting and empowering women with a strengthened Equal Pay Act, ensuring loopholes are closed and employers are held accountable for pay discrimination. Pay equity is not a controversial concept that requires debate – let’s pay women the same as men for doing the same job.”
The PFA calls for pay transparency – employers making job salaries public. That’s essential to closing the wage gap, Tanna Clewes, CEO of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, told Manchester InkLink last year.
“It continues to be a challenge to access reliable and complete data by gender in New Hampshire,” Clews said. “To address a challenge, we must first understand it and be able to measure it. Transparency in wage data is key.”
She said that business owners and leaders can commit to equal pay by publishing data that shows progress. She said workplace policies that are flexible and “address the outsized family responsibilities that women often shoulder” are also key.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su said Tuesday, “To build an inclusive economy, we need to enable workers to obtain jobs based on their interests, skills and aptitude rather than gender, race or ethnicity, and promote good-paying jobs that follow fair wage setting practices, like those found in union employment, to help to eliminate the wage gap.”
Su, in a news release, highlighted several actions by the federal government aimed at closing the gender wage gap:
- The newly launched Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ Mega Construction Project Program removes construction industry hiring barriers and promotes diversity in hiring qualified workers.
- The Employment and Training Administration announced March 6 a cooperative agreement of nearly $20 million to support TradesFutures, the National Urban League and its community partners in developing a strategy to substantially increase the number of participants from underrepresented populations – including women and underserved communities – in registered apprenticeships in the construction industry.
- The Good Jobs Initiative provides tools with practical strategies to increase equal employment opportunities on infrastructure projects, including using Project Labor Agreements as Tools for Equity and establishing Access and Opportunity Committees, stakeholder groups that meet regularly to monitor and support diversity and equity goals on a specific project.
The U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, citing a more in-depth analysis of data than in the past, said it shows that about a third of the gap between full-time, year-round working men and women’s wages can be explained by worker characteristics, such as age, education, industry, occupation, or work hours.
“However, roughly 70 percent cannot be attributed to measurable differences between workers,” the report says. “At least some of this unexplained portion of the wage gap is the result of discrimination, which is difficult to fully capture in a statistical model.”
A report based on the analysis says that efforts to close the gender and racial wage gap should address the leading contributors to differences in pay. That means addressing occupational and industry segregation, as well as “discrimination and other factors not easily captured in statistical models.”
The report concludes, “This will require supporting women entering male-dominated fields, raising wages and job quality across all sectors and especially in women-dominated jobs, and ensuring racial and gender equity in the high growth fields creating the jobs of the future.”