Equal Pay Day a time for women to push for change

Posted: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Today is Equal Pay Day, and this year women have a chance to win meaningful change.

The last Tuesday in April symbolizes the extra four months it takes women to catch up to the amount earned by men the previous year.

Nearly five decades after Congress outlawed wage discrimination based on gender, women in the United States still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to Census Bureau statistics.

For women of color, the gap is even wider. Black women earn only 69 cents for every dollar earned by men, Latinas only 59 cents.

Some pundits argue that women overall work fewer hours than men, and that's what explains the wage differences. In fact, these figures apply to women employed full time, year-round. If part-time workers were taken into account, women would earn a mere 38 percent of men's wages.

There is also a gap in not getting paid. Women of color have felt the effects of this downturn in a deeper way than white women, in cuts in hours and in jobs. Unemployment and underemployment rates for people of color are much higher than white populations.

President Barack Obama took one positive step when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to restore the ability of working women to challenge ongoing wage discrimination.

But he and all of us need to do more.

We must ensure fair pay for women, who work hard at their jobs, often while they carry a full load of family care-giving responsibilities.

Society must stop undervaluing the work women do in what are now female-dominated positions.

Similarly, the lack of regard for women's work as caregivers in the home sets low values for that same work in the marketplace. That has got to change.

So, too, does our lack of paid sick time.

Twenty out of the top 21 leading economies offer paid sick time. The United States is alone in not providing this benefit, a lack that drastically affects the ability of women and men to maintain employment while caring for family responsibilities.

Today, employers are lining up for stimulus funds. This is an opportunity to direct funds to fair businesses that can demonstrate equity and provide decent jobs with good benefits to women and families.

If we adopt policies that truly value families at work and recognize businesses that support women and families, we can begin to remedy the injustices.

With grassroots action and support from the Obama administration, we could emerge from this current economic crisis with a more just workplace.

Then, next April 28, we'd really have something to celebrate.

• Sangita Nayak is the lead organizer at 9to5 Milwaukee and has been engaging in community organizing for the past decade.

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