Paycheck fairness: a way to motivate the base

Sometime this week, women will have earned the same amount earned by a man during 2013 doing the same job. It takes us more than 15 months to earn what he earns in 12. That's why we celebrate Equal Pay Day each year in April, although "celebrate" is probably the wrong word.

In 1979, the first year for which comparable earnings data was available, women earned about 62 percent of what men earned doing the same job. The gap has narrowed to about 82 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but there has been essentially no improvement in a decade. It persists at all levels of education.


That translates into about $11,084 a year in median earnings. Or about $443,360 over a 40-year career. Women would have to work almost 12 years longer to close this gap.

Sadly, the American Association of University Women reports, young women are behind before the race starts. Women right out of college earn about 90 percent of what their male college buddies earn doing the same job.


The gap effects all women, but it is worse for mothers, blacks and Hispanics.

Conservatives and Republican politicians say this pay gap is a myth, and that it does not take into account educational differences and choices women make because of family concerns. But I bet if you ask a woman if she is earning as much as the guy next to her, she would hesitate. And then she would guess that she isn't.

She would be guessing because she could be punished by her employer for seeking or revealing salary information — hers, his or anybody else's. That is one of the things the Paycheck Fairness Act would correct.

Sponsored by Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, it would plug the holes in the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act, among them any retaliatory measures taken by an employer against a worker who inquires about or discloses wage information. The bill would also give the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission power to collect pay information from employers so that we might see what is actually going on behind the pay window.

"Congress needs to do away with ... workplace policies that belong in an episode of 'Mad Men,'" Sen. Barbara Mikulski said in a statement. "Everyone likes to say to us, 'Oh, you've come a long way,' But I don't think we've come a long way. We've only gained 18 cents in 50 years."

This isn't just a woman's issue. It is a family issue. Women are almost half the workforce, and 40 percent of them are the sole breadwinners in their families. And it is hard to imagine a man in a two-earner family who wouldn't want his wife to get a raise.

President Barack Obama got out in front this week with a directive to put the act's elements in place for workers employed by federal contractors, an action that highlights Republican recalcitrance.

I don't know, but I am feeling a little used.


This is the third time this discrepancy has been put before the public, and it has always been during election years. Because you can count on Republicans to oppose any relief — Senator Mikulski's bill did not have a single Republican co-sponsor — Democrats will use it as evidence of their shameful disregard of women.

Just as the pay gap is a matter of math, so is the timing of these headlines. Women vote, and their vote can be the difference for Democratic candidates. But we don't vote in as large numbers during mid-term elections unless we feel like we have something important at stake. So this pay gap business is red meat, tossed into our cages to get us to the polls.

Excuse my cynicism. But I don't like being played by Democrats any more than I like being patronized by Republicans.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on