Readers' rebuttal: Paycheck Act a good first step


Regarding "Fair pay for women?" [Anne Michaud, Opinion, Nov. 29], President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, and many thought the fight for gender equality was won. It's not. Today, on average, women working full-time earn only 77 cents to a man's dollar.

Wage and hiring discrimination is real; and it's most serious for mothers. While most women without children earn 90 cents to a man's dollar, mothers earn only 73; less, if they're mothers of color. Since four in five women have children by the time they're 44, most women will face this kind of discrimination.

This discrimination can't fully be blamed on mothers' career paths. Research shows that in cases where women and men have the same qualifications and jobs, women - particularly mothers - get paid less than men. A Cornell University study found that even with identical resumes, mothers are not only less likely to be hired, they are offered $11,000 lower starting salaries than non-moms. There's real discrimination here.

The Equal Pay Act was a good start, but it's not enough. The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen current law by increasing penalties for equal pay violations, prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about wage practices or disclose their own wages, empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, and creating stronger incentives for employers to follow the law. There's nothing radical here.

Women make up half the labor force. Unfair pay practices have serious ramifications for them, their families and our economy. The Paycheck Fairness Act could help remedy this.


I know that one argument for why women are paid less is because they gravitate toward professions that pay less. From that perspective, sexism and inequality appear not to be in play.

However, you could say that we are socialized from a very young age as women to have specific interests and skills (such as, to help others, to be empathetic, nurturing). The result being that we gravitate toward certain career choices (social work, elementary school teacher, nurse, nonprofits). Yes, these are personal choices we make when pursuing our degrees and careers, but so much of these choices were pre-determined by how so many of us were socialized from the beginning.

Many of these fields were historically considered "women's work." It was assumed that women's incomes weren't necessary, rather that they provided extra pocket change. The consequences of this archaic social order - men as bread winners, women as dependents - have lasted through until today.

From that perspective, I would argue that women are not making poor choices in pursuing careers that pay less. Rather, the solution is to reconsider the value of those careers themselves. Perhaps they warrant higher pay now.

By SUSAN F. FEINER Professor of Economics Professor of Women and Gender Studies University of Southern Maine.

Anne Michaud misconstrues the issue - "real paycheck fairness"? Instead of what, fake paycheck fairness?

First, the column does not point out that the pay gap - 77 cents on the dollar - only compares the earnings full time, full year workers. That excluses fully 50 percent of women. If we compare earnings of all working men (age 24 to 40) and all working women (age 24 to 40) we find women earning only 62 cents for every dollar earned by men. Yikes!

Sure, some of the pay gap is due to labor market segregation: the conscious and unconscious behaviors that crowd women into traditional women's jobs. These jobs have low pay (relative to required training and education) because women do them. If these jobs paid more, more men would apply.

Yes, jobs with predictable hours pay less. Unpaid domestic responsibilities still fall primarily on women. (Boss to worker: "Hi, I know it's 2:30 p.m. Friday, but there's an emergency. Be in Timbuktu Sunday." Worker to boss: "Sure thing, I'll give the kids my AmEx card and catch the next plane." Not.)

Affordable child-care is unquestionably a great policy. Yet, we've known for decades that readily available child care pays for itself in lower absenteeism and reduced turnover.

Women need the Paycheck Fairness Act because employers embrace the gender status quo - they favor men in hiring, promotion and earnings. That's the real issue in fair pay for women.

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