Another Equal Pay Day? Really?

If one more person points to Meg Whitman or Arianna Huffington as proof of women's earning power, I'm going to scream. That's like saying Tiger Woods and Will Smith are slam-dunk proof that black Americans have broken into the ranks of the über-rich.

2011-04-09-59Cent.jpgWhich brings us to National Equal Pay Day. I can't believe we're having another one. I still have my little green button from 1970 -- with "59¢" emblazoned on it -- tacked to my bulletin board. I remember how we all wore that button on our t-shirts as we marched to protest the gender pay disparity of that time. Now we're at 77 cents.

Forty years and 18 cents. A dozen eggs has gone up 10 times that amount.

There are people who undermine the pay gap by citing the women who make 98 cents on every dollar a man makes. But this is an elite group. According to the National Women's Law Center, the vast majority of American women -- working "full-time, year-round" -- are still stuck in that shameful 77-cent zone. The gap, says the National Women's Law Center, translates into "$10,622 less per year in female median earnings." Those are real dollars that could cover real expenses -- like food and school and clothes and health care and childcare.

Many companies try to disguise the inequity. Take the infamous Wal-Mart sex discrimination case, in which it was revealed that female workers at Wal-Mart earned about 5 percent less than men doing similar jobs between 1996 and 2001. Defenders of Wal-Mart might tell you that the discrepancy is practically negligible -- that, in fact, hourly-waged men make only 37 cents an hour more than the women.

But climb a little further up that corporate ladder -- to the career jobs -- and it's impossible to disguise the inequity. At the senior vice president level at Wal-Mart, says the report, the average pay for a man is $419,435 a year. And for women? Just $279,772. That's $150,000 a gap -- too many numerals for my little green button.

There are those who will dismiss this disparity and ask us women to congratulate ourselves for moving up the corporate food chain. That's the ol' you've-come-a-long-way-baby kind of thinking. It's too late for that. Today, as we mark another Equal Pay Day (or as some of us call it, Unequal Pay Day), we can't celebrate a mere 17-cent gain made over four decades.

So what do we do? We've worn the buttons, we've done the marches, we've lobbied. Now what?

Now we do what we Americans must always do: speak up and be heard. Thankfully, our voices are being carried by Senators Barbara Mikulski and Rosa L. DeLauro, who today will reintroduce on the floor of the U.S Senate the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would, among other things:

  • Require that employers defend any gender pay disparities by showing that the pay differences exist for legitimate, job-related reasons,
  • Remove obstacles that prevent discriminated upon employees from filing class action lawsuits, and
  • Ensure that the Department of Labor utilizes the full range of its investigatory tools to uncover pay discrimination.

"Women and men everywhere should call their Congress representatives and urge them to support this bill," Judy Lichtman, a senior adviser at the National Partnership for Women and Families, told me on the phone. "That would be the most powerful way to celebrate Equal Pay Day."

I think that's a great idea. So let's do it. I don't want to have to take my little green button off my bulletin board again.

Visit Marlo on her website on AOL. You can also connect with her on Twitter -- @MarloThomas -- and Facebook.