STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

The Equal Pay Act was signed 53 years ago. What's happened since then?

University of Salford Press Office / Flickr Creative Commons / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Let's use our imaginations for a second.

Let's pretend my husband and I are the same age. We both have a bachelor's degree. The same amount of work experience. And we hold the same position at the same company.

Even with this identical background, imagine my surprise when my husband brings home a bigger paycheck.

This is the gender pay gap.

Yesterday was Equal Pay Day. It's the day that symbolizes the amount of time it takes women's pay to catch up with men's pay from the year before. It was started by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages.

In 2014, full-time, year-round female employees were paid 79 cents for every dollar full-time, year-round male employees were paid. And here in Michigan, women were paid 75 cents for every dollar men were paid, according to a recent study by the American Association of University Women.

But it's all way, way worse for women of color. African-American women are paid, on average, 60 cents and Latinas are paid just 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. And Asian women are paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to white men.

All this, even decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.

Here are some other facts about the gender pay gap, according to NPR:

  • Women have been making progress. In the early 1960s, they made 59 cents for every dollar men did.
  • Part of the pay difference can be explained by the disproportionate representation of women in lower-paying jobs, such as maid, teacher and retail clerk.
  • Older women and women of color experience larger pay discrepancies than younger white women.
  • More than one-third of the pay gap simply cannot be explained by anything you can measure, such as hours worked, age or years of education.

That last point is important. It reflects the hypothetical situation with my husband that I introduced above. While there are often legitimate reasons for differences in pay like education, experience and productivity, there’s always a certain percentage of the pay gap that can’t be explained – or that no one is willing to admit.
Mickey Edell is co-chair of the Michigan Equal Pay Day Coalition and president of the Plymouth-Canton branch of the AAUW, who told the Detroit Free Press of Equal Pay Day:

We are fighting for pay equity all year round, but this is the day when we encourage women particularly to get involved. The gender pay gap is not only a women’s issue, it’s a family issue. It’s an economic issue and it impacts not only women but their families, their long-term savings, their social security and what they can do for their families.

You can take a closer look at the nuances behind the gender pay gap from Pew Research Center below: