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Equal Pay Act Turns 50: Female Feds Fare Better Than Private Sector Counterparts

Is equal pay or gender-based wage bias a problem in your workplace?

In case you missed it, June 10 marked the half-century anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination in employment.

One might think that pay equity for women would have been reached after 50 years. Alas, this goal remains fleeting.

Historically, men have been paid more than women for doing the same or substantially equal work. And while the gender pay gap has closed over the years it nonetheless remains a persistent problem.

Gender-based pay inequality is not just a problem for women but also for entire families, especially those in which women are the sole “bread winners” or earn more than their spouses (which is more common today then ever).

Good News for Female Feds

The good news for Uncle Sam is that women working in the federal government earn more on the dollar compared to their private sector counterparts. In that sense — and for workforce diversity generally — feds are closer to creating a model workplace than is corporate America.

The bad news is that while feds fare better, a stubborn wage gap still exists. The federal sector gender wage gap is 11-cents on the dollar, while it’s 23-cents per dollar in the private sector.

Thus, more work needs to be done to bridge the pay gap for all working women. This will move us closer to gender equality and benefit the overall U.S. economy.

Facts About the Equal Pay Act

  • The landmark civil rights statute was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963.
  • The Department of Labor originally had jurisdiction over the Act, which was later transferred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  • The Act prohibits unequal pay for men and women with jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility and that are performed under similar conditions within the same establishment.
  • Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago, the gender pay gap has decreased, but women still are paid an average of only about 77-cents for every dollar paid to men (private sector).
  • The gap is even greater for women of color and for women with disabilities.
  • As noted, the wage gap persists among federal employees, despite a formal job classification system which makes compensation much less subjective than it may be in some private sector contexts.
  • A 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed an 11-cent wage gap between men and women in the federal workforce, 7-cents of which remains unexplained by factors typically used to justify pay differences such as experience, years of service, and education

White House Ceremony

President Obama remarked today during a ceremony at the White House:

  • “When more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn’t just be getting a little bit of bacon…
  • If they’re bringing home more of the income and that income is less than a fair share, that means that families have less to get by on, for child care or health care or gas or groceries…
  • It makes it harder for middle-class families to save and retire…
  • It leaves small businesses with customers who have less money in their pockets, which is not good for the economy.”

DYK? Equal Pay Task Force

  • In 2010, President Obama created an interagency National Equal Pay Task Force.
  • Check out the June 2013 report.

Further Federal Resources

White House: “Your Right to Equal Pay, Understand the Basics”

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

Facts About Equal Pay and Compensation Discrimination, Press Release (on 50th anniversary) and Q&A (“What You Should Know…”)

  • Department of Labor (DOL):

PSA featuring 1960s Batgirl, Batman & Robin on YouTube
Blog Post: “What Women Want: Equal Pay”

  • Department of Justice (DOJ):

Blog Post: Civil Rights Division


Also Check Out: Equal Pay Day 2013

* Photo Credits: Associated Press (Monday’s White House Event with President Obama — above — and President Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago — below)

* All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.

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David B. Grinberg

National Public Radio (NPR) reports (text & audio) on 50th anniversary of Equal Pay Act (bold added for emphasis):

  • “Some dispute the frequently cited figure that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man earns [in the private sector]. But even those who argue the gap is narrower agree it’s most prominent when a woman enters her childbearing years.”
  • “In 2010, an analytics firm called Reach Advisors crunched Census Bureau numbers and found something surprising: The median salary of single, childless women under the age of 30 was 8 percent higher than their male counterparts. That’s largely because more women are going to college than men.”

  • “What made that number noteworthy is that it’s the only group of women who have a pay advantage. In fact, different numbers from Reach Advisors show that that early advantage vaporizes later in women’s lives — especially if they have children.”

  • “Speaking 50 years ago, President Kennedy hailed the Equal Pay Act a “first step.” He then asked Congress to fund tax breaks and day care centers so women could remain in the workforce even after they became mothers.”

David B. Grinberg

The Wall Street Journal reports on why working women aren’t making more money:

Do We Have Equal Pay Yet? No, And Here’s Why

  • “Since pay raises generally are given as a percentage of someone’s base salary, even a small early wage gap widens into a “gulf” a decade into a woman’s career, says Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, a women’s advocacy group.”

  • “Some of the disparity can be explained by women’s college majors and the career paths and industries they pursued. (Fewer try their hands at jobs in high-paying STEM fields, for example.)”

  • “But even controlling for those factors–looking at a man and woman who graduated from the same school, with the same major, taking the same job and working the same hours–the woman still earned about 7% less than the man.”

  • “Experts say inequity is unlikely to change until workers are encouraged, or at least allowed, to share details of their compensation with one another. Pay-secrecy policies are commonplace and allow companies to continue paying men and women different amounts for the same job.”

  • “Another reason for the pay gap may be that women tend not to negotiate starting salaries or raises as aggressively as men.”

David B. Grinberg

FYI: Think Progress reports:

Five Signs Of Stalled Progress On The Gender Wage Gap 50 Years After The Equal Pay Act

  • “Few federal laws addressing the gender wage gap have been enacted since the Equal Pay Act five decades ago.”

  • “The Lilly Ledbetter Act took an important step toward reducing the legal barriers facing women who are discriminated against, but the gap has actually widened since the law was enacted. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been introduced but voted down in Congress many times, would go an important step further and end salary secrecy, empowering women to better root out unequal pay.”