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Opinion: Women need a ‘Ledbetter moment’ for equal pay
President Obama applauds Lilly Ledbetter before signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in January 2009.
April 17th, 2012
11:40 AM ET

Opinion: Women need a ‘Ledbetter moment’ for equal pay

Editor’s note: Linda Hallman is executive director and CEO of the American Association of University Women.

By Linda Hallman, Special to CNN

(CNN) – Today is Equal Pay Day - the symbolic date marking how long women must work, starting from January 1, 2011, to make what men earned in 2011 alone – although it would be better marked where it should be, December 31.

A lot needs to happen to chip away at the extra four months it takes for women’s wages to equal what a man makes in one year, and of course, a change in date assumes a change in data. But the latest numbers show that in 2010, women working full-time in the United States made just 77%, on average, of what men made, a gap of 23% that only widens for women of color.

For now, the numbers will keep Equal Pay Day in April and, sadly, not everyone cares.

Some critics believe unfair pay is caused by personal choice, so there is no need to worry about when we mark Equal Pay Day. American Association of University Women research says otherwise: When college and career are taken into account, along with factors such as workplace flexibility, industry and sector, and marital status and number of children, the pay gap still exists.

Here’s an apples-to-apples example: Just one year out of college, women in the same major in the same field already make 5% less than their male counterparts. When all other factors are stripped away, the only explanation for the pay gap is gender.

Sandra Fluke: Who says women don't care about wages?

Another example is the story of Idaho Agriculture Director Celia Gould. The former state legislator has been a part of the governor’s cabinet since 2007, bringing an impressive résumé to her job overseeing 259 employees. Contrast this with the state’s Commerce Director Jeffery Sayer, who joined the cabinet last year. He oversees just 53 employees, yet he makes $38,000 more than Gould, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Everyone seems to be at a loss to explain the difference, including the governor. But one thing is clear: Gould is not the only woman experiencing the negative impact of the pay gap. The problem goes beyond both state lines and career choice. From the corner office to the corner store, hard-working women often take home paychecks that are less than fair.

And with the secrecy shrouding paychecks, many women don’t even know that they’re victims. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 61% of employees in the private sector are either discouraged or prohibited from discussing wages and benefits. Besides, shouldn’t we assume that almost 50 years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, paycheck fairness would have caught up with the law?

Instead, the law has fallen behind the times, even as the pay gap lives on. Just last year, Betty Dukes grabbed headlines as the lead plaintiff in a case charging Wal-Mart with discriminating against women in pay and promotion. She and other brave women took their fight for fair pay all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, only to be turned away.

A few years ago, Lilly Ledbetter had a similar encounter with the court. After the American public heard her story, fair pay became an issue in the 2008 election. The ensuing outrage led Congress and President Barack Obama to right the Supreme Court’s wrong with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill that became a critical tool for women who find out late in the game that their wages are unfair. But the bill addresses only a narrow part of the wage gap, and Congress has been too distracted with partisan fighting to update the rest of the Equal Pay Act with the Paycheck Fairness Act.

To make matters worse, state-level fair pay bills are also in danger. Just last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker just repealed a three-year-old equal pay bill, even though Wisconsin holds a mediocre rank of 25 in the state-by-state data by the American Association of University Women.

We need another “Ledbetter moment.” With pocketbook pressures setting the stage, fair pay fits right in to the changes we must demand in the 2012 elections. It’s a demand to be made by all of us - men and women, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, Republicans and Democrats. Every vote counts, and your vote gives you the power to close the pay gap.

Vote this November for candidates who will fight for fair pay.

Who knows - we might be able to forget Equal Pay Day ever even existed.

The opinions express are solely those of Linda Hallman.

Posted by
Filed under: 2012 Election • Discrimination • Economy • Gender • How we live • Politics • Women
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. jon

    Women need to speak out for being lumped together as sheep by the media/liberals. If women value their freedom and values they should be irate that Democrats have the nerve to pretend to speak for all Women

    April 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. panorain

    It has been over two years and women doing the same jobs as men are still paid on average 20% less. But half the women are being paid just as well as men. This means the other half of the women are only being paid 60% for the same job. Minority women are paid even less. 40% less. Plus companies pay an additional 20% less for women with children. Like that should matter. So some women have to work for only 1/3 of what the men are getting paid for the same job. This is a crime.

    April 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. loopy

    I have been on my job for 7 years this year, in those 7 years I have (as my boss calls it) "accidently" absorbed two other peoples position because they have been fired for one reason or another. Both positions originally held by males, and paid way more than I am currently paid. I have a degree, I work long hours and I take a lot of work home. One of the positions was a base salary with commissions. I have brought in 3 deals and I have been paid 0 in terms of commissions, when I ask about it, the answer from my boss is -thats part of my job.
    I have two sons in college and one more on the way, I need to have medical insurance for us and this is why I keep this job. Two incomes are always better than one, and I could look for another job, but at my age, part of me just wants to stick it out until all my kids graduate from college. Then that will be the day I walk in and say thank you and good bye.

    April 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    I want equal pay with the still working millionaires. Guess what it is not going to happen. My point now women now that you have equal pay why not bump it up so we all get to take home millions of dollars as our wages?

    April 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. crazypete

    I thought this was about Leadbelly. It's not. Very sad.

    April 18, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Josie

    Unequal pay sucks...and makes it hard. Men don't get it because they have the upper hand normally. Women if they are pregnant get leave for a few weeks after they give birth to recover and bond with the child. Men get a few days tops. Even though having the father around would benefit both mother and child. Women typically take their children to the doctor because of the fact that when it comes to illness and giving care, they are better at it. Give a man a job, and don't bother him and it will get done, but it's normally physical labor, hard work and back breaking work. Now don't get me wrong I am all for equal rights, but I am and was raised somewhat traditional. Oh and I love yard work and gardening (hell I get pay paid every summer to do my mom's yard). I just don't get why women can't figure out that they unlike men can chose to stay home and raise their kids or work and have another raise them. The acception to this would be single mothers (including my sister), but even they get jobs where it is ok with them having children.

    April 17, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Pay will always be unfair in the private market. Why? Because every company uses a different standard in determining how much they pay for each job. Add to that the amount of money in a pay raise should be determined by performance of the individual during the previous evaluation period, and the value of that employee to the company (i.e. how much do they have to keep paying him or her to keep him or her from leaving for another company). Longevity taken at face value should not matter, as that is merely surviving. However, when initially hiring someone, the pay they receive should be based on the intensity of the work expected of them and the level of experience and qualifications they bring to the table. It should not be based on what gender they are.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. helicohunter

    This country is not only anti-woman, but anti-children as well. Children are considered a burden and non-parents are outraged that their taxes are used to educate other people's children. Newsflash- poorly educated children are more likely to need welfare or commit crimes. Education affects everyone. Likewise, many think that women deserve less pay because they take care of children. What kind of society is this? the vast majority of working moms work just as hard as their male counterparts in addition to having the lion's share of child-rearing responsibilities. Tired of female employees taking time off to bring kids the the doctor? Blame the lazy father for not sharing the burden. Those misogynistic child-haters will later rely on those women and children to take care of them and to lead companies, government, etc.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      I have always been amused by older, childless couples who complain about paying school taxes when they get nothing out of it. Whenever I hear that, I always ask them where they think the next generation of Police and Fire Department personnel will come from. That usually shuts them up.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kay Summers

    This war on women is nuts! why does the left always group people? We are all big girls and can figure out what Ms. Fluke's job was taking the stand. She was part of the left leaning prop. Most all woman know how to deal with companies for equal pay, most know how to get birth control and don't expect tax payers to pay for theml, most know when a scam is thrust upon them. Yes some will buy into this crap because they want a free ride but these women also understand what FREE means. Its like selling your soul to the devil!

    April 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • helicohunter

      Do you pay for birth control out of pocket, or does your insurance cover it? Insurers are HAPPY to provide birth control, so the idea that tax payers are paying for it is ludicrous. As for poor, uninsured women, would you rather have a few of your tax dollars go towards birth control, or many of your tax dollars go to welfare? As for women being able to negotiate equal salary, that's nonsense. Certain well-educated, experienced women may have that luxury, but the average woman with bills to pay isn't in a strong negotiating position.

      April 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. karek40

    Lets see 29 pushups for the man, 14 for the woman to qualify. Should the pay be equal. I believe in equal pay for equal qualifications/work. No exceptions.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. keyester

    Do not believe Feminist Studies.
    The statistics include women who work part-time.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • penquin

      It may be that the studies are off, but how do you explain Celia Gould in Idaho? Based on the size of her department alone, she should be making at least as much as another department head who superivses less than half the amount of employees that she does. Any man would ask for, and most likely, receive the same compensation.

      April 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
      • dhondi

        There are plenty of men who have faced cutbacks and are doing more for much less than they are worth or would be paid in other companies performing a similar role. When it happens to a man it is a matter of economics, when it happens to a woman it is a social injustice.

        April 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
      • David

        Number of employees supervised is not necessarily an indication of importance of a job. Also, neither person directly supervises the number of employees mentioned in the article. Shouldn't the important factor be the importance of the department – agriculture vs. commerce? Which one sounds more important to a state's economy? I would say commerce.

        April 18, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Aldo Matamoros

    We are America and the Womans Fair Pay is due already. Womans needs to have Equal Pay, their fair share...not more
    rate pay descrimination in between Man's and Woman. The Law has to be even to be the right Law,.

    April 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Farty McCloud

    Perhaps Gov. Walker repealed the law because it was only creating additional regulatory burdens for employers. It clearly wasn't helping female workers much if WI is only ranked 25th. It seems to me that this law was doing about as much good as the skid marks that line my underwear.

    April 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmesIA

      By that logic if polluters are tainting our water and air the EPA is clearly ineffective and we should cut regulation and enforcement until things clear up.

      April 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. curtis

    Women want equal right until its time to pay for dinner OR do the heavy lifting OR open the door OR cut the grass OR pull out the chair OR put gas in the car, etcetera

    April 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I bet you're holding out on doing those sorts of things for women. I can pretty accurately predict what your principled strategy is costing you.

      April 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • RdclCntrst

      What an idiotic comment. Women don't have the RIGHT to ask you to hold the door, etc. You do it because you feel an obligation to do so–and that's on YOU, not on the women. There is no law saying that you have to do those things. In fact, you, as a man, have a RIGHT to not do those things since you find them so onerous.
      The RIGHT women SHOULD have is the right to receive equal protection under the law (which is the legal standard) and to receive the same pay for the same work that men do.
      More simply put, the law doesn't say that you have to be courteous to women, but the law DOES say that you have to pay people the same money when they do the same work. Don't confuse "rights" with "customs".

      April 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Annoyed29

      I am a married female in my late 20s and I can assure you I do ALL of these things, Curtis, and it's the same case with the majority of my female friends!

      My male coworker who has no experience in our field was just hired at the same pay rate it took me 5 years to work up to... and mind you the 3 years of previous, direct work experience I had meant nothing – even though I challenged it, I was still hired in as entry level. He was hired in at the top of the pay scale, straight out of college (same degree!), no questions asked. Even he is dumbfounded by it.

      April 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |