Senate Democrats

Pay Equity Would Boost the Economic Security of American Families

This week, Senate Democrats recognize Equal Pay Day and the persistent and unfortunate gender wage gap that affects all Americans.   Equal Pay Day, celebrated this year on April 20, is the day on which women’s earnings catch up to men’s earning from the previous year.  It has taken the average American woman four additional months to earn what the average American man earned in 12 months last year.  This wage disparity not only places women at a significant economic disadvantage, but also threatens the economic stability and security of American families struggling during these tough economic times.  According to the American Association of University Women, families lose $200 billion annually in income due to the wage gap. [AAUW, Breaking Through Barriers for Women and Girls]

The most recent data shows that women, on average, earn almost 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. [U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 American Community Survey, Sept. 2009]  Since 1963, when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women performing equal work, the gender wage gap has improved at less than half of a percent. [National Partnership for Women & Families, Fact vs. Fiction]  This slow rate of progress has harmed women and their families, especially as the workforce participation rate of women has risen.  Today, there are roughly 70 million women in our nation’s workforce. [Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010]

Senate Democrats understand that wage discrimination harms our families and our economy.  That is why the Democrat-led Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored the ability of workers to effectively seek legal redress for pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, age, or disability.  The legislation was signed into law (P.L. 111-2) on January 29, 2009 by President Barack Obama.  The efforts by Senate Democrats and President Obama ended a nearly two-year battle to overturn a Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult for victims of pay discrimination to seek redress and receive justice.  The American people can be assured that Senate Democrats are committed to making sure that all Americans receive equal pay for equal work. 

More women are working outside the home.  Today, women make up half of the workforce and over 70 percent of mothers work outside the home.  [Testimony of Heather Boushey before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, 3/11/10]  In fact, two-thirds of mothers contribute at least a quarter of their family’s earnings. [Heather Boushey, 3/11/10]  For American families touched by the Recession, the burden of wage discrimination weighs heavily because women’s economic contributions are even more important to maintain economic stability.

More Americans depend on working women’s wages to support their families.  The skyrocketing unemployment rate since the start of the Recession has altered the significance of women’s paychecks for millions of families.  Since December 2007, out of every 10 jobs lost, 7 of those jobs were held by men. [Heather Boushey, 3/11/10]  Today, many families depend on women as the breadwinner or sole provider due to the high rate of unemployment.  In 2008, 40 percent of mothers were their family’s breadwinner, up from 27.7 percent in 1967. [Heather Boushey, 3/11/10]  If married women earned as much as their male counterparts their families would earn almost 6 percent more in family income.  [AAUW, Breaking Through Barriers for Women and Girls]

Pay equity is commonsense and good business for companies.  Paying women equal pay for equal work supports the growth of companies and promotes the economic health of businesses.  According to the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, companies that hire and retain more women gain a competitive edge.  These companies show stronger financial performance and, because women make up 50 percent of the workforce, these companies are able to hire more selectively.  Businesses that pay women fairly for their work may experience increased worker retention and benefit from increased employee productivity. [Testimony of Deborah Frett before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, 3/11/10]

The pay gap exists across all education levels and begins immediately after college. 

Women of all educational backgrounds experience a pay disparity with their male colleagues, however women with only a high school degree face even higher wage disparities with their male counterparts than college-educated women. [National Women's Law Center, January 2010]  Women who have not finished high school will lose $270,000 over the course of a 40-year career. [Heather Boushey, 3/11/10

Unfortunately, attending college does not shield women from the gender pay gap.  The American Association of University Women has found that, holding all other factors equal, women earn five percent less than men just one year out of college. [AAUW, July 2009]  This disparity rises over time.  Ten years after graduating from college, women face an even larger pay gap, earning 12 percent less than men.  Women with at least a college degree will lose over $700,000 over the course of a 40-year career. [Heather Boushey, 3/11/10]  While the pay disparity is less than that of those women who have not graduated from high school, the impact in terms of real dollars is greater. 

The pay gap exists across all career fields, even when men and women hold the same position.  There are over 500 occupational categories used to calculate the wage ratio between men and women’s earnings.  Of these, there are only five occupations in which women earn as much or more than men: 1) counselors; 2) special education teachers; 3) construction and extraction occupations; 4) installation, maintenance, and repair occupations; and 5) physical and social science technicians. [Institute for Women's Policy Research, April 2009]  

Unfortunately, men outpace women in earnings in all other occupations from the highest-paying – where women earn between 64.4 (physicians and surgeons) to 86.9 (computer software engineers) percent of men’s earnings – to the lowest-paying – where women earn between 83.3 (laundry and dry cleaning workers) to 91.8 (food preparation workers) percent of men’s earnings. [Institute for Women's Policy Research, April 2009]   

The pay gap is exacerbated by race and ethnicity.  Although all women face pay discrimination, women of color fare worse than white women. In 2008, African American women working fulltime earned just 61 percent of white men’s income and Hispanic women working fulltime earned only 52 percent of white men’s income. [National Women's Law Center, January 2010]  Communities of color are harmed even more by the pay disparities because women of color are more likely to be single parents, supporting their families with their wages.

Although this fact sheet focuses on the gender pay disparity, pay inequity exists amongst male workers by race and ethnicity as well.  In 2007, African American men made only 76 percent of white men’s earnings, while Hispanic men made only 66 percent of while men’s earnings.  [AAUW, Breaking Through Barriers for Women and Girls]

Wage disparities affect women throughout their lifetime.  Women’s plans for buying a home, putting their children through college, and planning for retirement are impacted by the wage gap.  Women will lose roughly $400,000 over the course of their lifetimes because of gender wage disparities. [National Women's Law Center, January 2010]  Because retirement benefits are tied to earnings, women also earn fewer Social Security and pension benefits than men. [American Association of University Women, Behind the Pay Gap]  

The pay gap exists in every state and the District of Columbia.  There is no state in which women have gained economic parity with men.  The District of Columbia has the smallest wage gap of 88 percent while Wyoming has the widest gap of 64 percent. [U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 American Community Survey, Sept. 2009

See the state-by-state chart below for more detailed information. 

State

Median Earnings ($)

    Men’s         Women’s

Women’s Earnings as an Estimated Percentage of Men’s Earnings

United States

45,556

35,471

77.9

Alabama

41,411

30,681

74.1

Alaska

51,500

37,861

73.5

Arizona

41,524

34,556

83.2

Arkansas

36,839

27,487

74.6

California

47,758

40,521

84.9

Colorado

47,270

36,618

77.5

Connecticut

58,838

44,625

75.9

Delaware

46,898

37,049

79.0

District of Columbia

57,393

50,519

88.0

Florida

40,672

32,506

79.9

Georgia

42,391

34,513

81.4

Hawaii

45,577

36,709

80.5

Idaho

41,461

29,730

71.7

Illinois

50,022

36,968

73.9

Indiana

44,906

31,935

71.1

Iowa

41,677

31,903

76.5

Kansas

43,346

32,066

74.0

Kentucky

40,977

31,089

75.9

Louisiana

43,326

29,147

67.3

Maine

40,908

32,613

79.7

Maryland

53,189

44,188

83.0

Massachusetts

55,555

43,452

78.2

Michigan

48,720

35,260

72.4

Minnesota

48,637

37,281

76.7

Mississippi

37,436

27,697

74.0

Missouri

42,106

31,820

75.6

Montana

38,440

29,634

77.1

Nebraska

40,860

30,885

75.6

Nevada

45,178

34,724

76.9

New Hampshire

51,655

36,946

71.5

New Jersey

55,980

44,343

79.2

New Mexico

40,359

30,623

75.9

New York

48,882

40,490

82.8

North Carolina

40,875

32,397

79.3

North Dakota

41,249

29,589

71.7

Ohio

45,214

33,628

74.4

Oklahoma

39,860

30,123

75.6

Oregon

43,226

33,959

78.6

Pennsylvania

46,455

35,265

75.9

Rhode Island

49,265

36,536

74.2

South Carolina

40,998

31,063

75.8

South Dakota

37,493

28,431

75.8

Tennessee

40,458

31,091

76.8

Texas

41,539

32,530

78.3

Utah

45,028

31,183

69.3

Vermont

41,778

34,424

82.4

Virginia

50,203

37,859

75.4

Washington

51,272

37,932

74.0

West Virginia

40,941

27,472

67.1

Wisconsin

45,266

33,640

74.3

Wyoming

48,555

31,204

64.3

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 American Community Survey, Sept. 2009.  

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