Let’s Leave Mad Men-Era Pay Policies in the Past

| Apr 7, 2014

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

There is a reason many of us bristle at the thought of what the nation’s workplaces were like for women during the Mad Men era: the almost universal recognition that it was a time when sexism was rampant, when women were routinely devalued, disrespected and blatantly discriminated against. The good news is that those days are behind us. Or are they?

In many ways, things have improved significantly for women in the workplace over the years. But April 8 is Equal Pay Day – the day that marks how far into 2014 women have had to work to catch up with the wages paid to men in 2013. It is a stark reminder that Mad Men-era pay policies are sadly not history.

This year, the National Partnership released our analysis of the gender-based wage gap in all 50 states, revealing that it continues to take a serious toll on women and families in every corner of the country. Nationally, women are paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to men – a difference of more than $11,000 dollars annually. The states with the largest cents-on-the-dollar pay differences are Wyoming, Louisiana, West Virginia, Utah and Alabama.

If the gap were eliminated, women who work in Wyoming could buy 135 more weeks of food. Louisiana women could afford 14 more months of mortgage and utilities payments. Working women in West Virginia could afford 22 more months of rent. And women employed in Utah could afford 4,300+ more gallons of gas. The loss of income that could go toward basic necessities is especially relevant for the more than 15 million U.S. households headed by women, about 32 percent of which live in poverty.

And the gap is even larger for women of color. Nationally, African-American women and Latinas are paid just 64 cents and just 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. We also looked at the wage gap for African-American women and Latinas in the 20 states in which the largest numbers of African-American women and Latinas work full time. We found that African-American women in Louisiana and Latinas in New Jersey suffer from the largest gaps, but there are appalling disparities in every state.

Fortunately, there is some hope. President Obama has been a vocal supporter of equal pay for women, including it in his State of the Union address and as part of a recent weekly radio address. And this week, he is taking executive action to prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their pay and to order the Department of Labor to create a data collection tool to determine what federal contractors pay their employees across gender and race. We fully expect these measures to have a positive impact on the federal contractor workforce while blazing a trail for the private sector.

Also this week, the Senate is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act – a bill that would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, help to break harmful patterns of pay discrimination, and establish stronger workplace protections for women. In a 2014 nationwide survey, 62 percent of likely voters said they supported the bill, and support crosses demographic and ideological lines.

Equal Pay Day and our new wage gap analysis make clear that more needs to be done to combat pay discrimination and help ensure millions of women the fair pay they need and deserve. Members of Congress can either endorse the status quo in which women and families suffer due to pervasive wage discrimination reminiscent of the Mad Men-era, or they can move to stop gender discrimination by advancing the Paycheck Fairness Act. The choice should be an easy one.