Every year around this time, activists mark Equal Pay Day — but it’s not a celebration of fair pay for all. In fact, it’s far from it. Equal Pay Day marks how far into the year women must work to earn what men were paid during the previous calendar year. The idea is to highlight the fact that a female dentist, for example, would have to work from January 1st, 2016 to April 4th, 2017 to earn what a male dentist was paid from January 1st to December 31st, 2016.
It’s not exactly a fun, champagne-popping holiday.
Exact figures vary, but researchers agree that, on average, women are paid about 80 cents to every dollar a man earns. According to the American Association of University Women, the gap widens to a striking 63 cents when you compare the incomes of African American women and white men, and to 54 cents for Latinas compared to white men — so clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done.
In fact, AAUW notes that if we marked Equal Pay Day by race, we’d be “celebrating” African American women’s day in August, Native American women’s day in September, and Latina women’s day in October. That’s 10 months into the year for Latinas to reach the same pay as white men doing the same work.
There is a federal Equal Pay Act in place — it was signed into law in 1963 — but it doesn’t provide workers with enough avenues to fight for fair pay, nor does it offer strong incentives for employers to follow the law.
Advocates say the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was blocked by Senate Republicans in 2014, would do more to protect women. But considering Donald Trump recently overturned workplace protections for women put in place by the Obama administration, it seems unlikely that any kind of fair pay act will pass soon.
Until then, we’ll continue to mark Equal Pay Day every year — because hiding in the shadow of the gender pay gap is not an option.