Ponnada: Wage gap alive

BY SRI PONNADA | APRIL 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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Statistics from the 2010 Census show that for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes 77 cents. That’s only 18 cents more than what women made in 1963 — around 50 years ago — when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to end wage discrimination based on sex.

Linda Stewart Kroon, the director of the UI Women’s Resource and Action Center, said she believes there is a combination of factors contributing to the wage gap. One is that gender discrimination has not ended.

Every year on April 9, Equal Pay Day is held to signify the point into a year that a woman must work to earn what a man made the year before — that’s a quarter of a year more.

As you can tell by now, Equal Pay Day is not a holiday to celebrate. However, it is a day of incredible importance that many more people should be aware of. I think it deserves a parade.

According to a new analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching policy issues of critical importance for women, women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations. It doesn’t matter if you work in a field dominated by women, by men, or with an even mix of men and women. Women, on a whole, earn less than men.

You might wonder: Why is this important to me, a college student? When you spread your wings and leave Hawkeye heartland, this gap will affect you, too — especially you women.

“Women tend to start out at lower salaries than men do from the beginning of their careers and the gap just widens over the years,” Kroon said. “We’re certainly seeing that in statistics in the wage gap for even recent college graduates.”

She said the gap is small at first and within five to six years, grows much wider. People are starting at a point of disadvantage from the very start of their careers. In this case, where you start really matters.

The wage gap is even worse for women of color.  In 2009, the earnings of African-American women were 67.5 percent of all men’s earnings, and Latinas’ earnings were 57.7 percent of all men’s earnings.

Kroon highlighted that in public places where there is greater transparency about pay, for instance at the university, there tends to be less of a gap. Workplaces in which there are unions or collective bargaining for salaries tend to have lower gaps as well. She said the more private the information is and the more individuals are left on their own, that’s where we see bigger gaps.

“Any private employer doesn’t have to release that information,” said Kroon. “It’s not a crime to pay someone less. This legislation [the Equal Pay Act] allows an employee to bring a civil case against an employer, but that requires that the employee have the information.”

If I didn’t even know I was being paid less than my guy pals working for the same company, there’s nothing I could do about it. Kroon said she believes that’s what’s feeding the persistence of the problem.

But the issue isn’t impossible to fix.

“I think some of the things we can do is increase transparency so information is more readily available to everyone to see what’s going on,” Kroon said. “We also need to especially provide skills and resources to people who are on the lower end of the gap.”

These individuals need to know what to do, how to do it, and who will help them.

Fortunately for women in Iowa City, WRAC is here to help.

“We do some skills training for women in our leadership program, especially in how to negotiate that first salary and how to ask for a raise,” Kroon said.

The staff and volunteers at WRAC also try to educate the general public about the problem and increase awareness.

The first step to solving any problem, however, is acknowledging that there is one to begin with.

That’s where Equal Pay Day comes in. It reminds us that the wage gap, which may not be as visible to us on a day-to-day basis, still exists. Hopefully, in the future, women will be making the same dollar a man makes now; if not more (to compensate us for years of injustice, of course).

But to get to that happy day, we still have a long way to go.

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