The 2012 Equal Pay Day – the point into 2012 that a woman must work, on average, to make the same amount a man did in 2011 – was April 17. Roughly a third of the year has passed and woman have just now caught up. For those wondering why this is a date of significance when women should already be making equal wages compared to men a law that passed almost 50 years ago – we are wondering that too!

Some argue the pay gap is related to women’s life choices, such as education levels, college majors, occupation, industry, hours, previous work experiences, marital status, and children. However, a 2007 American Association of University Women study controlled for each of those factors as well as demographic data, and still found a 5% pay gap between male and female earnings existed one year out of college. Ten years out of college, the “unexplained difference” in pay widens to 12%.

On average, women today make 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. For women of color, the pay discrepancy worsens: African Americans women earned 62 cents and Hispanic women 54 cents for each dollar earned by a white man. Nevada women do better than average, earning 83 cents for each dollar earned by their male counterparts, but this is still dismal and of little comfort to struggling families in our state. Nevada women, working full time, lost approximate $2.7 billion last year! For an average-earning family, this gap translates to:

  • Over a year’s worth of food on the table
  • Four months of mortgage and utilities paid
  • Eight months of rent
  • More than two years of family health insurance premiums
  • More than 1,800 gallons of gas

These dismal statistics are evidence that something must be done. In 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act helped protect the victmis of paycheck discrimination by resetting the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit with each new discriminatory paycheck. The ACLU is working in conjunction with the Obama administration and the Paycheck Fairness Coalition to promote issues of fair pay, including gaining congressional support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act would make it easier for targets of wage discrimination to address the issues by allowing all employees to disclose salary information, requiring employers to show any wage discrepancies are based on genuine business requirements relating to specifics of the position, prohibiting retaliation against individuals who raise wage-parity issues, providing professional development resources for women on negotiating skills, and proposing further research to understand lingering causes of wage discrepancies between the two genders.

In addition, we are also urging the president to sign an executive order banning retaliation for wage disclosure in federal contracting. Knowledge fuels change, and if women don’t know they are paid less than their male co-workers, they cannot fight it. Allowing all employees to discuss their salaries without fear of termination will give women an essential tool for learning if they are receiving equal treatment – that is the first step to fighting against pay discrimination.

40% of women are the primary breadwinners in their homes. These families are earning far less than they deserve – especially in this struggling economy. While Congress remains gridlocked regarding Paycheck Fairness Act, millions of women are waiting eagerly for fair treatment. Help end that wait by urging President Obama to issue an executive order banning retaliation against federal contract employees for discussing their pay.