Not-so-Equal Pay Day

Today is Equal Pay Day, the anti-holiday that advocates mark to remind us that women have to work almost 16 months to earn what men do in 12. The gap has persisted despite the attention and lip service paid to equality, despite women’s gains in the workplace and public sphere.

In Vermont in 2014, women working full time for the entire year had a median income of $39,335, while men earned $46,599, a difference of more than 18 percent. And the gap is even greater for single parents. In our State of Working Vermont 2015, we highlighted the gap in 2014 median incomes: single fathers earned 80 percent—nearly $20,000—more than single mothers.

Change the Story VT, which works to improve women’s economic status, recently issued a report about women, work, and wages, highlighting the economic challenges that women face. The wage gap has often been blamed on women’s individual choices – to go into lower wage professions, to opt out of work to take care of children, to prize flexibility above salary – but Change the Story VT found that the gap persists across professions and socioeconomic status. Since women consistently earn less than men, they have lower Social Security contributions, leaving them more vulnerable to poverty in old age.

And the burden of child care continues to fall disproportionately on women. More than half of single mothers with young children in Vermont lived in poverty in 2014, and the number remains above pre-recession levels. These results are not the consequence of individual choices, but the result of entrenched cultural norms and public policy choices.

But maybe there’s a solution. As the BBC noted last week, Norway’s wage gap is considerably smaller than in the U.S., as is the difference between what bosses make compared to their employees. How have they achieved that? Everyone’s income and their total tax paid is public information. That means that if you suspect that men are making more than women doing similar jobs in your office, you can look it up. You can also see whether people making comparable incomes pay comparable amounts in taxes.

As we mark the twentieth annual Equal Pay Day, it’s clear that acknowledging the problem hasn’t yet solved it. Maybe transparency is worth a try.

Posted by Stephanie Yu on April 12, 2016 at 4:23 pm

One Response to “Not-so-Equal Pay Day”

  1. Elaine McCrate says:

    It’s worth noting that Vermont’s Equal Pay Law of 2013 (Act 31 — prohibits employers from requiring, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from disclosing the amount of his or her wages or from inquiring about or discussing the wages of other employees. Not nearly as good as Norway, but better than all but a couple other states.