We’re 115 days late

Added April 29th, 2014 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Today is Michigan’s Equal Pay Day, marking how far into the 2014 calendar Michigan women must work in order to earn what men earned in 2013. (The National Equal Pay Day was April 8.)

States observe their own Equal Pay Day relative to the federal day based on how much their pay equity gap diverges from the gap nationwide. Michigan observes the day more than a week later because our state’s wage gap is the 7th widest in the nation. Michigan women earn 73.7 cents for every dollar that men earn, compared with 90.3 cents in the District of Columbia (and at the lowest end, 63.8 cents in Wyoming).

When taking race into consideration, Michigan’s wage disparity is even starker: Hispanic women earn 53.8 cents for every dollar earned by white male workers, and African American women earn 67.3 cents.

When the president pointed out the disparities on National Equal Pay Day this year, a U.S. Senate candidate claimed that women prefer flexibility over pay equality. (We should be advocating for both!) More surprising was an activist’s assertion that husbands earning more strengthens marriages. I’m still puzzling over that last one.

Some argue that since the gap can be explained by a number of factors, it is not due to overt and intentional discrimination. Factors cited include:

• Many of the lowest-paying jobs are filled primarily by women.
• Women are more likely to take time off to raise a family, which in the United States often means disrupting their careers.
• The higher-paying occupations tend to require working more than 40 hours a week in order to move up the career ladder.

But aren’t these factors problems in themselves? Why is it that so many adult minimum wage workers are women, that even in occupations dominated by women, men tend to earn more than women for the same work, that (unlike in many other countries) only three states have a paid family leave law, that so few employers provide on-site child care? And why is the minimum wage still so low?

And, what about the 7% pay gap between college-educated men and women even after adjusting for occupation, major, hours worked, parenthood, and other factors?

Even though much of the gap for both low-paid and higher-paid workers can be explained by factors other than overt discrimination, such discrimination does exist. The Lily Ledbetter Act makes  it easier for women to sue if they have been the victims of wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would build on these protections, has not yet passed Congress.

It’s time for men to step up to the plate on this issue as well as women, which is one reason I am writing the Equal Pay Day blog this year. Let’s advocate for paid family leave, higher minimum wage, passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and a child care system that is both family friendly and work friendly. Economies in countries that have such laws are doing just fine, and if there are more male voices speaking up, it will hopefully tilt the political will in this country to become more conducive to women’s equality in the workplace.

— Peter Ruark

One Response to “We’re 115 days late”

  1. […] In Michigan, two out of every five low-income working families are headed by women. Yet, women in the state earn just a fraction of what their male counterparts earn. Michigan has the seventh-widest gender wage gap in the country, with women earning just 74 cents for each $1 a man makes. […]

Leave a Reply