Op-ed: Driving progress towards equal pay

“The Eagle” recently published a column on Audi’s Super Bowl commercial that drew attention to the company’s commitment to equal pay. Although I applaud the author’s choice to highlight the ad, I strongly disagree with the majority of the conclusions she made about the wage gap.

The wage gap is not a myth. Across the United States, women are paid less than their male counterparts, despite performing the same work, working in the same industries and having the same education levels. The wage gap calculates the degree to which this pay disparity is present amongst full-time workers by measuring the difference in wages between the salary of the average woman and the salary of the average man.

This gap limits the earnings of millions of women, and disproportionately affects the earnings of Black and Hispanic/Latino women. And, contrary to the author’s assertions, the wage gap cannot be explained by women’s choices.

The United States Census Bureau determined in 2015 that the average pay for a female worker working a full-time, year-round job was $40,742, while the pay for the average male worker in a full-time, year-round job was $51,212. This means that overall, women in the United States are paid 80 cents for every dollar that is paid to men.

The disparities in pay become more disparaging when broken down by race. In 2015, for every dollar earned by a white man, Asian American women earned an average of 85 cents, White women earned an average of 75 cents, Black women earned an average of 63 cents and Hispanic/Latino women earned an average of 54 cents.

The author of the column is correct when they state that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 banned pay discrimination on the basis of sex. However, while overt discrimination on the basis of sex is illegal, a wage gap continues to persist in the United States.

Women’s choices cannot explain the wage gap. In 2015, United States Census Bureau found that across all industries, women are paid less than men. When this is broken down by profession, again the census bureau found that women’s wages are less than those of men, even when they are working in the same profession. These data show that for every dollar made by a man, a woman working in sales and related occupations earns 43 cents, a woman working as a doctor makes 56 cents and a woman working as an engineer makes 87 cents.

Additionally, the wage gap persists regardless of education level. Using census data which measured the wage gap by education level, The National Partnership for Women and Families found that women with doctoral degrees are paid less than men with master’s degrees, and women with master’s degrees are paid less than men with bachelor’s degrees.

So if the wage gap persists across industry and occupation and is not influenced by education level, what is behind it? In a study published in January 2016, researchers Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn determined that 62 percent of the wage gap can be attributed to differences in education, experience, region, race, unionization, industry and occupation. This leaves 38 percent of the wage gap unaccounted for, causing researchers to conclude that discrimination cannot be discounted as a reason for the presence of the wage gap.

In order for women to receive equal pay for equal work, Congress must pass legislation to protect and promote women in the workforce. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act extended the time period for workers to file a claim for discriminatory pay with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, in many professions, workers are not protected from retaliation for discussing their salaries with their colleagues.

Therefore, Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow workers to discuss their pay without fear of retaliation by their employer. Additionally, the Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to prove that when instances of pay disparity are found, that these disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons.

If addressing the wage gap is to be a national priority, the budget for the EEOC must increase, as this commission is responsible for collecting information on pay and promoting fair pay in the workplace. To address the pay disparities, faced by LGBTQ Americans, Congress must pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Additionally, passing family-friendly policies like the FAMILY Act, which provides paid family and medical leave, and the Healthy Families Act, which provides paid sick days, would allow more women to stay in the workforce, thus resulting in increased wages and a decreased pay gap over time.

At the conclusion of its Super Bowl ad, Audi encouraged viewers to Drive Progress. Now is the time for Congress to act to close the pay gap and ensure equal pay for equal work.

Mary-Margaret Koch is a junior in the School of Communication and the School of Public Affairs.

edpage@theeagleonline.com

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