April 4th is Equal Pay Day. Now, of course, different sources offer different days, so we won't quibble over which day it is. The question is what it is. Ostensibly it's a day set aside to highlight pay differences between men and women. It is intended to symbolize "how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year."
Nolo.com is a website that gives legal information and sells law products (like software for making wills and the like). They have an article on the Equal Pay Act that "requires employers to pay men and women equally for doing the same work -- equal pay for equal work." I'm in favor of equal pay for equal work. On the question of determining what equal work is, they say, "Courts have ruled that two jobs are equal for the purposes of the Equal Pay Act when both require equal levels of skill, effort, and responsibility and are performed under similar conditions." Fine. Clear enough. Fair enough. And, yet, it doesn't seem to be a part of our vocabulary.
Looking into it further, I found that the Whitehouse.gov website on the topic that claimed that full-time working women earn 77% of what their male counterparts earn is no longer available. The Pew Research Center said it wasn't quite accurate. For instance, "Our own estimate, which is based on hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers, finds women earn 84 percent of what men earn." Further, "for young women, the wage gap is even smaller – at 93 percent." They point out that women typically experience more career interruptions which means they work reduced work hours, take more time off, turn down promotions, and quit jobs significantly more than men. The raw number (last year the Washington Post put it at 79%) for the discrepancy in pay is not in terms of equal pay for equal work, but in terms of money made without regard for equal work. It is "a ratio of the difference between women’s median earnings and men’s median earnings." But if you drop that to weekly wages, the gap drops to 18 cents and if you look at hourly wages it's down to 13 cents. (As it turned out, the women in Obama's White House were paid on this ratio of earnings at 88% of what the men there earned, an almost literal "not putting your money where your mouth is.")
Is there a pay gap? Sure. The facts and figures are unavoidable. And, certainly, just as racism still resides in certain communities (and is wholeheartedly encouraged in others while denying it exists there), sexism still has some weight to throw around. On the other hand, figuring out how to fix it is much harder than it looks. How much is due to unequal work? How much is due to unequal hours, unequal jobs, unequal effort, unequal skills, unequal responsibility? Is the answer a socialism-lite, where we pay everyone the same, at least to some extent? Maybe we think that it's time for an "equal pay affirmative action" system where we give women more simply for being women, obviously taking it from the men to recompense them for years of inequity. On the other hand, very few seemed to notice that in the 2009 recession far more men lost their jobs than women. It might be shown that those making more money are also working more and taking more risks. Or shall we just do as we've done in so many other places and redefine "equal pay for equal work" to be whatever makes us feel better, even if it isn't a valid definition?