Unequal Pay Equals Economic Repression
Toni Morrison once said:  "If you're going to hold someone down you're going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression."

Pay inequity persists and its repressive impact is far reaching.

Simply put, equal pay is about paying people the same wage for the same work.  Yet as with so many pocketbook issues, lack of factual information and misinformation can lead to fear and the pitting of one group against the other such as female versus male and employee versus employer.  It doesn't have to be this way because pay equity benefits women, men, families, and society at large.

Equal Pay is often categorized as a "women's" issue.  It is partly.  On the whole, however, it is a human rights issue that affects both women and men, married and single, with and without children.

In Tennessee, women earn 71 cents to the dollar men earn. We don't even measure up to the national average of women earning 77 percent of what men earn for similar work.  Pay disparity in Tennessee is not pocket change either.  For single women, women heads' of households, and married households with both couples working for pay, it translates into $29 less per every $100 earned to spend on groceries, utilities, rent or mortgage, college savings, insurance, childcare, and other necessities.

Women make up 48 percent of the workforce. Nearly 72 percent of mothers with children under 18 years of age work for pay.  Among 62 percent of married households with children under 18 both parents work for pay.  It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of all working women and slightly more than half of married women provide half of their families' income.

Because of unequal pay, women and their families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.  Men are also being shortchanged, both those who are part of married households and those who work in what are referred to as female-oriented jobs such as sales, clerical, nursing, and customer service.  Nonetheless, even in female-oriented jobs, men receive about 20 percent more pay than women.

A study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that if women received the same pay as men (for the same job) their annual family income would rise by $4,000 and poverty rates would be cut in half. Working families would gain $200-billion in family income annually.  Another study of efforts to reduce pay discrimination in several states found that both sexes benefit from wage adjustments, with men being beneficiaries up to 41 percent of the time.

But wait a minute.  Isn't equal pay the law?

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is the oldest workplace civil law in our nation. Upon signing it into law in 1963, President Kennedy praised the EPA, saying that it:
"Adds to our laws another structure basic to democracy" and "affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelope." He was correct that a law was added and it affirmed our determination for equality.  But the promise remains unfulfilled forty years later.  Granted, the gap has closed for women from earning 59 percent of what men earned in 1963 to the current 77 percent. But it has been painfully slow, narrowing by less than half a cent per year!

The reality is that women are paid less in every occupational classification, according to U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.  

So what can be done?  Plenty.  Here are four ways to close the pay gap:

First, women must actively insist upon equal pay.  Do this by asking prospective employers for written proof that both sexes are paid equally for the job being sought and look for positive signs like affirmative action, written pay and benefit policies, job descriptions, and evaluation procedures.  Seek union employment, where women earn 35 percent more than in non-union workplaces. Don't take a job that does not pay equally.  If you discover that you are being paid less than a male counterpart, discuss it with your employer. If discrimination persists, file a complaint with local or state fair employment agencies or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Second, employers must examine and correct (if necessary) pay practices through guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Third, we need to keep affirmative action programs in place to make sure education, jobs, and promotion opportunities are open and offered to qualified women.

Fourth, support local, state, and federal legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act.

Break the chains. Let go of the chains.  Positive contributions by both men and women are vital to the workplace and to our society.  Let's reward both sexes with equal praise and equal pay!
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