Equal Pay Day Is Nothing To Celebrate

Why are we STILL paid less than men?


April 12 was Equal Pay Day.

It’s not a holiday. It’s a day to note that 53 years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women are still being paid unfairly–less for the same labor as men.

We’ve heard this from various quarters, notably Hollywood, when actresses like Jennifer Lawrence spoke out about how much less she was paid than her male co-stars, despite being an Oscar-winner. Serena Williams, arguably the best tennis player in the world, is paid less than her male counterparts: $495,000 to Roger Federer’s $790,000. On March 31 the U.S. women’s soccer team–Olympic Gold medalists–filed a wage discrimination suit, because they had had enough.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team (long led by out lesbian Abby Wambach, who holds the world record for goals among both men and women) has been a leader in the sport, garnering win after win. Wambach alone has been a six-time winner of the Soccer Athlete of the Year Award, is a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and a FIFA Women’s World Cup champion. In 2015 she was listed among the Time 100 as among the most influential people in the world. Yet she’s paid 40 percent less than the worst male soccer player.

The U.S. team is emblematic of why there’s an Equal Pay Day: because the pay gap for women is so great. In filing their suit, the U.S. soccer team explained that they were paid 40 percent less than the men. Yet there’s no argument that the women’s team brings more viewers, has always been a stellar, winning team–unlike the men–and has energized interest in the sport in the U.S. where soccer is not the phenomenon it is internationally.

The women’s case was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC is the federal agency enforcing laws against workplace discrimination. (The EEOC does not cover complaints by LGBT people who are not protected by any federal workplace discrimination legislation, like ENDA, which has yet to be passed since it was first proposed in 1994.)

This is just one of many cases of gender discrimination in sports. Women’s Tennis Association tourney director Raymond Moore was forced to resign in March when he insisted, "In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport."

Needless to say, Serena Williams, who banks more ticket sales than any other player in the world, disagreed.

But while the big money gaps in Hollywood and the sports world are obvious and glaring, millions of women in the American workforce face the same pay gaps, it’s just not writ as large. But for all women, the loss of income is–especially when compounded over a lifetime–huge.

What is Equal Pay Day, after all? And why is it April 12?

The day signals how much longer women have had to work since the end of the previous year to catch up to what men made. Yes, more than a quarter of the next calendar year is spent in a catch up that can never actually happen. Think of it this way: Women could work the full year and then men could take off for three and a half months and they would be paid the same.

Sound legit? Who wouldn’t want three and a half months of paid vacation?

It’s worse than that, though. That April 12 date is for white women and Asian women. Asian women make the most–84c on the white male $1, followed by white women, who make 77c for every white male $1. Other women of color are paid less. For black women, Equal Pay Day is Aug. 23–64c on the white male $1. Native American women, Sept. 13, 60c. Latinas have it worst: Nov. 1–nearly a year–because they are paid only 55c on the white male $1. Working mothers are underpaid across all races and their Equal Pay Day is June 4–halfway through the year.

Where do lesbians fall? There’s limited data, but consider the difference between a heterosexual couple and a lesbian couple, married or unmarried: A heterosexual couple has a man bringing home a man’s wages. The lesbian couple does not. In addition to which, lesbians face discrimination in the workplace that heterosexual women do not.


According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, lesbian women bear an even greater economic burden. According to the Williams Institute, women in same-sex couples have a median personal income of $38,000 compared to $47,000 for men in same-sex couples.

But why is this still going on when JFK signed that legislation in 1963 and one of President Obama’s first actions when he took office in 2009 was signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Now if employers would only comply.

Statistics vary from state to state, but there’s no state where women make the same as men. The smallest pay gap in the country is in Washington, D.C. women are paid 90 percent of the white male dollar–largely because the primary employer is the federal government. But head down South and Louisiana has a veritable pay gulf, with white and Asian women earning just 65 percent of the male dollar.

It’s tough to be a millennial, too. Although there are more women graduating from college and with advanced degrees than men, women make less from the start. According to the American Association of University Women, women college graduates in the exact same fields as their male counterparts were making ten percent less a full year after graduation.

And then there’s the feminization of careers–that’s a brutal pay gap. A new study from researchers at Cornell University found that the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap, accounting for more than half of it. In fact, another study shows, when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.

It doesn’t even matter what the job is. As the New York Times reported in March, "The median earnings of information technology managers (mostly men) are 27 percent higher than human resources managers (mostly women), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. At the other end of the wage spectrum, janitors (usually men) earn 22 percent more than maids and house-cleaners (usually women). Once women start doing a job, ‘It just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill,’ said Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University. ‘Gender bias sneaks into those decisions.’"

So as study after study indicates that careers dominated by women–nursing, teaching, social work are prime examples–result in overall lower pay scales than jobs dominated by men, women will continue to make less money. The shift in veterinary medicine, for example, over the past decade to a female dominated field has resulted in an overall drop in pay from when the field was dominated by men. The free-fall in pay scale can range from an 18 percent decrease (biologists) to a 34 percent decrease (designers) to a 60 percent decrease (social work). Add that up over a lifetime and it’s literally millions of dollars.

We’re not getting much closer to closing the gap, either. Between the time JFK signed the Equal Pay Act and women made 59c on the male $1 to when President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act when women made 77c on the male $1, the needle hasn’t moved much at all. Economists suggest that at this rate of pay increase–less than 20c over more than 50 years with a stalling out for more than a decade–it will take more than a century for women to close the gap.

Over all, in fields where men dominate, the median pay is $962 a week: 21 percent higher than in occupations where women dominate, according to another new study, published in March by Third Way.

The New York Times reported in March that the Cornell study explained more than half of the pay gap as this shift in career dominance. Differences in the type of work men and women do account for 51 percent of the pay gap, a larger portion than in 1980, according to the economists at Cornell.

This is not good news. Women are missing that quarter to half of the income they should be paid and the impact is felt in different ways at different points in our lives. Immediately after graduation the pay gap keeps women from purchasing power: from clothes to shelter, women have less disposable income. In middle age it may impact whether women feel able to change careers or contemplate time off for childbearing. But it’s in old age that the gap hits women hardest: women comprise nearly all of the elderly poor and one of the main reasons for this is low Social Security payments due to lower wages over a lifetime.

The National LGBTQ Task Force noted: "Wage discrimination for women and those who live at the intersections of race, sexual orientation and gender identity must end. The compounding impact of earning less throughout their lifetime leaves women more vulnerable as they age, with less economic security this in the face of recent threats to Social Security benefits. There is no justification for paying women less than men for comparable work.

For lesbians, Equal Pay Day is a reminder that lesbians are still far more likely to be poor than either straight women or the general population, according to the Center for American Progress. This is especially the case for older lesbians, lesbians of color and lesbians who are raising children. The situation for lesbians is also far worse in states that lack employment protections for LGBTQ workers, which is almost everywhere. And the spate of recent anti-LGBT laws being passed in various places, most recently Mississippi and North Carolina is an indicator that these variables will only change for the worse.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have made pledges to end income inequality. While in the Senate, then Sen. Clinton spearheaded legislation to close the pay gap. Sen. Clinton introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2005 and 2007. Speaking to her bill in 2007, Clinton noted that "pay discrimination continues to result in women earning less than men for performing the same job." The Paycheck Fairness Act would add non-retaliation requirements for women who inquire about or discuss their wages. Clinton co-sponsored the legislation in 2003 and 2001 as well.

What are the answers for women? There seem, at present, to be few. Raise the minimum wage, since women are at the bottom of the pay scale. Provide full family leave, since women disproportionately care for children and elderly parents and sick spouses/partners. Both Clinton and Sanders have pledged to do this. Not surprisingly, none of the GOP candidates have addressed these issues.

But beyond that, what’s needed is a gutting of gender bias from all professions because even when women choose fields dominated by men, the pay gap remains. Women aren’t just paid differently for different jobs, they are paid differently for the same jobs and the same work–all of it. Harvard economist Claudia Goldin discovered that a pay gaps are irrespective of position. Female physicians earn 71 percent of what male physicians earn, lawyers earn 82 percent. A PhD will not close the gap in pay–women with PhDs actually make even less comparably than blue collar workers.

The question is, how do women bridge that gap that is holding all women back financially, regardless of our career choices? Whether women are maids or veterinarians or lawyers, we are not being paid what we deserve. Which means Equal Pay Day is nothing to celebrate.


Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and A Room of Her Own, senior politics reporter and contributing editor for Curve magazine, contributing editor for Lambda Literary Review and a columnist for San Francisco Bay Area Reporter. Her reporting and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Nation, Ms Magazine and Slate. Her book, Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic won the Lambda Literary Award, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her new novel, Ordinary Mayhem, won the IPPY Award for fiction on May 1, 2015 and is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her book Erasure: Silencing Lesbians and her next novel, Sleep So Deep, will both be published in 2016. @VABVOX


Edit ModuleEdit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Hot New Podcast "I Love My Wife"

Kelli Carpenter and Anne Steele dish about everything from married life to exotic travel in this delightful listening experience.

Another Black Harvard Man Arrested

The one incontrovertible fact is that Mr. Ohene was in crisis.

They Gay Agenda Comic

Oh, you're gay?

Black Renaissance

A black lesbian traces her relationship with her own racial identity.

Add your comment: