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Ever since the integration of women in the workforce, women have been consistently paid less than men of the same job. In 2013, it was reported that women, on average, make only 82.1% of what men make weekly (The Gender Wage Gap). Because of the high number of working single mothers, this number should be higher, but optimally equal with that of men. Recently, the people of America were polled and it was found that 54% of voters-including 44% of male voters—believe that women face a harder journey to higher positions than men.
In addition, 60% of voters said that they are more likely to vote in support of a candidate who supports equal pay for women (Siddiqui).
Despite the popular public opinion, the government has yet to pass a bill proposing equal pay for women. President Barack Obama has proposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would make it harder for employers to dispute claims of gender- based pay discrimination; however, the Senate blocked the bill from passing (Marcus).
In addition, in his recent State of the Union address, President Obama compared modern workplace policies to those from a “Mad Men” episode and stated that “it’s an embarrassment” that in 2014, women are paid 77 cents on the dollar that men make (Office of the Press Secretary).
Despite the progress made to help women in the workforce become equal to men, there is still a large “gender gap” concerning salaries and positions held; therefore, further action must be taken to advance working women. Prior to 2014, many women have fought for their right to equal pay, and the legislation of former President John Fitzgerald Kennedy did take steps forward to fix this problem in our country.
As early as 1963, action was taken to level the wage gap for women. In this year, John F. Kennedy passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibited discrimination against women concerning wages. Former President Kennedy believed that the American economy depended on the efforts of women and that their numbers were growing faster than men’s. He thought it was imperative that women be paid the same as men, not only for their own sake, but also for the sake of the children that some women left in daycare while they worked for a living. Because of his beliefs, former President Kennedy believed that the Equal Pay Act was a great first step for women and that it showed the country’s determination to make equal pay for all (Kennedy).
The most famous or well-known employment discrimination case was the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case of 1998. Lilly Ledbetter was hired by Goodyear in 1979 when, in 1998, she sued her employer for discriminatory actions against her salary and rank. Initially, Ledbetter was awarded $3.5 million by a lower court, which was then reduced to $360,000. However, once her case reached the Supreme Court, a 5-4 vote ruling declared that the statue of limitations on her case were up and if they were to allow Ledbetter her case, then the court would have to allow discriminatory claims made about actions from 20 years ago under Title VII claims. However, the only woman on the Supreme Court at that time, Ruth Ginsburg, said that, “the Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII” (Ledbetter v. Goodyear). And that’s exactly what the Obama administration aimed to do. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make the 180-day limitation applicable to every discriminatory paycheck, not only the first one. This act was established to make it easier for women who were not initially aware of the discriminatory pay to get their rights (Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act).
Oppositionists have many reasons for their stance on equal pay for equal work. Many people say that because women seek different fields of work than men, the wage gap is invalid. In 1992, out of all of the women who received bachelor’s degrees, only 2% were in engineering, compared to the 26% of men who received an engineering degree. The majority of degrees that women receive are in communications, education, English literature, the health professions, and the visual and performing arts, while only 17% of men received degrees in these fields. Similarly, with advanced degrees, such as master’s and doctorates, one out of four women who earned Ph.D.s did so in education, which earn, on average, a monthly income of $3,048. On the other hand, one out of five men who earned doctorates did so in engineering, a field that earns an average monthly income of $4,049 (Williams).
Other studies, such as a 1992 census study show the relationship between education level and earnings found that at every level of education required, men have more time spent working than women. While a 1984 census study found that 14.7% of a woman’s work years were spent away from work, comparatively, a man spent only 1.6% of his work years away from work. These findings lead to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to come to the conclusions that “women spend significantly more time away from work and are apparently unable to build the seniority that men achieve” (Williams).
Concerning the recently failed proposed bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, Democrats, who initially proposed the bill, fought for its passing; however, the Republicans of the Senate refused and the bill fell only six votes short of passing in April of 2014. Republicans oppose the Paycheck Fairness Act because of the way the bill is worded, not necessarily on the content. If the bill had been passed, businesses and employers would have a hard time defending their case in lawsuits and there could be many more suits after this would be passed because of the way it allows employees to sue their employers for discriminatory pay (Marcus). Republicans defend their stance that the Paycheck Fairness Act would infringe upon the employers’ rights to fair trial as would allow many more cases and be in favor of the employees (Marcus).
The American workforce is growing, and the number of women is, statistically speaking, growing faster than the number of men. For example, the percentage of women in the workforce in 1973 was 44.7%, while in 1993 it grew to 57.9% (Williams). The 13% increase of women in the workforce in just two decades is more than reason for them to receive equal pay. Women are presenting themselves as a bigger and bigger part of our country as a whole. Despite this, women faculty at American universities make about “80 cents to every dollar men make” (Renzulli). Similarly, at universities that grant doctoral degrees, which also happen to give the highest salaries to faculty, women faculty are outnumbered two to one. Women are also underrepresented in the highest salary positions such as science, computer science, business and law; however, they are overrepresented in positions such as English, romance languages, and education. In addition, women hold lower ranks as men. They tend to hold part time teacher positions or not receive tenure (Renzulli). In sum, one of the biggest problems concerning the gender gap is that women are not in high positions that men hold, rather they hold many teaching positions in fields such as English, which, in contrast to engineering, does not make a lot of money.
Working mothers also face supplemental consequences that a woman with no children would not. Women who try to keep both their family life and career by cutting only one day a week from their workload, suffer indefinite consequences for the rest of their careers including lower salaries, less responsibilities and lower status. Many women who put their jobs on hold to take care of their families, even for a few weeks, are penalized and sometimes forced to start at the bottom all over again, subsequently making a lower salary than they used to (Williams). This is a major problem seeing as 71% of all mothers in the U.S. work for a salary, and while 68% of those mothers are married and do have access to a man’s income, the other 32% are single mothers and often are the sole provider for their family (Hartmann). Being a mother is a job in itself, and many working mothers are penalized or receive unfair pay that is not suitable to support a family. When many working mothers are the only source of income for their family, how can the government determine that minimum wage is suitable?
Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25 an hour. If a working mother were to work 40-hour workweeks, she would receive 290 every week. However, that amounts to only $15,080 a year, which falls well below the poverty line for a household of two (What Are Poverty…). If you take into account all of the expenses such as bills and house/apartment payments that cuts a huge chunk out of her paycheck. How is a single woman supposed to raise a child on such little money? House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated that 60% of people making minimum wage are women (Siddiqui). If we want our country to succeed in all aspects, we need to start with our discriminatorily paid workers because a country thrives when its citizens are successful.
In order for this problem to end, serious steps need to be taken. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was a good first step for the Obama Administration because it ensured women that their rights had no expiration date when it came to discriminatory pay. President Obama also recently signed two executive orders ruling that any federal contractors have to pay women as much as men for equal work.
The president also ordered contractors to report data to the government to show the compensation paid to employees by gender and race (Hennessey). President Obama has shown major determination to progress women’s rights, especially in the works force and these executive orders are just another step forward for the United States. Although these executive orders only affect the executive branch, hopefully other organizations and businesses will follow suit. The data requested by President Obama is a great idea because of how it is based on not only race, but also gender. This way, the government would directly know if any women had been paid discriminatorily, thus giving the employee evidence if she were to sue. President Obama has taken great steps towards creating an equal paying workforce and raising minimum wage, which, in addition to providing equal pay for women, that pay would be increased for minimum wage workers.
In addition, because the majority of workers receiving minimum wage is women, improvements to minimum wage should be made. President Obama proposed a $10.10 minimum wage in his recent State of the Union (Office of the Press Secretary). Raising the minimum wage would without a doubt affect the economy both negatively and positively. For instance, many small businesses that are family owned cannot afford to pay their employees $10.10, therefore, the businesses could have to let go of some of their workers or close all together. This would be bad for both the employees of the small business and the owners. Many small businesses are family owned and are barely hanging on as is, but if the minimum wage were to be raised, it could become impossible for businesses to stay open, and therefore not only affect the workers and owners, but the consumers as well. Despite this, if minimum wage were to be raised, the annual income of a worker would be around $21,000, a more livable amount of money for a family of two or three. In sum, the proposal by President Obama for a $10.10 minimum wage should be approved so that working women and mothers do not have to live in poverty while working 40+ hour weeks.
Although the Paycheck Fairness Act did not pass in the Senate, it is still a valid point of reference. President Obama’s bill for paycheck equality can be easily revised to appeal to Republicans who previously opposed it. If the Act were to be reworded, it would be more widely accepted and could pass the Senate. In order to do this, Democrats would have to revise the sections on how businesses can defend themselves in court to make it more fair and to also be more strict on just how many suits could be presented. Republicans’ main problem with the Paycheck Fairness Act was how it seemed unfair to the businesses who were being accused of discriminatory pay, so if the Paycheck Fairness Act were to be revised to limit the cases that can be brought to court and how businesses can defend themselves, it is quite possible that this could be passed. This is a valid proposal because if Republicans’ only concerns were the infringement on employers’ rights, then if that is resolved it should be able to be passed. The Paycheck Fairness Act would not only be a great step for women, but also for our country as a whole. Our country bases itself on equality; if we can’t provide equal pay for our citizens, how can we call ourselves all equal?
Those opposed to the Paycheck Fairness Act and the raise of minimum wage, are majorly Republicans in the Senate. They believe that the Paycheck Fairness Act would infringe more on the employers and business owners’ rights than actually create a fair work environment. Because of the wording of the Paycheck Fairness Act, to the Republicans, it seemed like because of the time added to the statue of limitations for discriminatory paychecks, employers would have a harder time defending themselves in court and many more cases would flood the courts, creating chaos (Marcus). While the Republicans’ view is understandable, the Paycheck Fairness Act should not be scrapped altogether. Therefore, if the act could be revised to clear up confusion and loose ends, it could pass the Senate and equal pay would be even closer to becoming a reality.
Creating equal pay would have many benefits for not only women, but also our country as a whole. If the gender gap were to be decreased, many families would be brought out of poverty, bringing the poverty rate for all workingwomen from 8.1% to 3.9%, and the poverty rate for working single mothers would drop from 28.7% to 15%. In addition, two thirds of the women would receive a pay increase (Hartmann). Our country would not only be stronger individually if equal pay was created, but also economically. If women were paid equally as men, the U.S. economy would benefit greatly, raking in and addition income of $447.6 billion, about 2.9% of 2012 GDP. Equal pay could help bring our country closer to being out of debt, or at least it would be a step forward. When women thrive, our country thrives. President Obama stated in his recent State of the Union address that he “firmly believe[s] when women succeed, America succeeds” (Office of the Press Secretary).
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