The Issues of Equal Pay in American Society

About this essay

For women globally, equal pay is an issue of civil rights. It’s a family issue. Women make up over half of the United States labor force and there is an increasing number of women- supported households (“Understand”). Despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work, the “gender gap” in pay persists. When they aren’t paid fairly, not only does it affect them, but also their families.

Despite what you may have heard, women are no worse at negotiating than men. However, women must do more negotiating than men if they want to get ahead at work.

Not simply for pay, but also for the right conditions that will help grow their careers. The modern day workplace was constructed by men, for men. It’s assumed that men are ambitious and want promotions, that they have the kind of home life that will support long hours at the office and that they don’t need flex time to take care of children.

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Women are often penalized for ambition or judged for not seeming to pay enough attention to their home lives. This is not in any way fair. The pay gap is an issue that we need to work together to fix.

This upcoming Monday, we celebrate the birthday of the late Martin Luther King Jr.. Almost fifty years ago King asked, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?” (“Opinion”).

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MLK was a leader of the historic struggle for equality and we as a nation have made so much progress because of the paths that he lefts us. However, we can’t forget that a basic tenet of the movement King represented was one of economic security. For millions of American women and their families — particularly women belonging to minority groups– the aspiration of equal rights coupled with full economic opportunity is far from realized.

Today, one in three Americans lives at or below the poverty line, and almost 70% are women and children. That’s 42 million women inching along poverty’s tightrope. In November of 2015, two economic reports were released which both demonstrated that women are still making less than their male counterparts. The Economic Policy Institute reported that despite women entering the workforce in record numbers and making gains in educational attainment, the 2014 median hourly wages of U.S. women were only 83 percent of men’s (Forbes). The number of working poor struggling to lift themselves into the middle class is steadily increasing, with the worst poverty rates falling on black and Latina women. Women are only now earning what men were earning a decade ago.

Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, concentrated in jobs that tend to be labor-intensive. They go without paid sick days or access to affordable child care. Moreover, women across the spectrum continue to earn less than men no matter the education level, profession or position — a wage gap that is more like a gulf for women of color who earn 55 to 65 cents on the dollar compared with white men. Add to this picture that 40% of our nation’s households with children rely on women as a primary or sole source of income, and it becomes easier to understand why it is so hard for many families to get ahead.

Why has it been so difficult to close the wage gap between women and men? Because the situation is much more complex than most people realize, with many elements influencing the problem. Even though the gender pay gap issue is complex – it’s fixable. But fixing it will require the efforts of people throughout the world, from schools to hiring managers, from human resource personnel to parents of daughters, from governments to groups championing economic and human rights. And, it may require taking bolder actions.

What’s clear is that the American family has changed. No longer are we a “Leave It to Beaver” nation. Only one in five families today has a parent in the workforce and another who stays at home with the kids. Women are increasingly primary breadwinner and primary caregiver, and the nation has not kept pace with this reality. Our approach to families, in public policy and in the workplace, is decidedly 20th century. We need to push forward a 21st century policy agenda that acknowledges women are playing these critical dual roles.

There are a lot of well-intentioned people out there who think teaching women to negotiate better can help close the gender pay gap. (Women make 79 cents to every male dollar, and the gap is bigger for women of color.) Indeed, the city of Boston recently launched a new gender pay parity initiative that includes giving free negotiation classes to working women. But simply blaming women for making less than men — which is what you’re doing by trying to “teach” them to get better at salary negotiation isn’t going to fix this. Instead, we need to address structural issues with the modern-day workplace that hold women back from getting to pay equality. And these issues have little to do with harmful stereotypes about women’s ability to be as “aggressive” or “confident” as their male counterparts when negotiating for pay.

For starters, it’s past time we adopt nationwide paid family leave and paid sick day policies now standard in most developed countries so that women don’t have to make the impossible choice between providing needed family care and feeding the family. We also need to close the gender wage gap, which would cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families and add nearly a half trillion dollars to the national economy. Raising the minimum wage would provide women who labor in jobs caring for others’ families with greater economic resources to care for their own. Access to quality, affordable child care not only allows mothers to work all year, it also gives them the chance to further their education, which is a key gateway to the middle class.

Legislation has been proposed in Congress on all of these issues, so the time to act is now. The Paycheck Fairness Act is currently being passed through Congress (“Equal Pay”). As we chart the course for the next generation of change, addressing the economic crisis facing Women particularly low-income women and women of color must be front and center.

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The Issues of Equal Pay in American Society. (2023, Mar 23). Retrieved from

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