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Column - Narrowing gap not good enough

We've all heard or read about gender inequality in terms of pay. The simple message is that women, on average, don't make as much money as men in the same positions.

But things have gotten better, right? After all, it's been nearly 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed, which protects men and women who perform equal work in a company from sex-based wage discrimination.

At that time (1963) women only earned 59 cents on the dollar compared to men.

Today, 50 percent of the American workforce is made up of women.

Today, women work in jobs and careers that 50 years ago were considered off-limits to them.

Today, women run companies of all sizes, serve as board chairs, make multi-billion-dollar decisions.

So women have definitely come a long way in the past 50 years. Or have they? Consider these numbers:

•In 1963, the wage gap was 41 cents. Today, it is 23 cents. In 50 years, we didn't even cut the gap in half. In today's world, a woman makes 77 cents (on average) for every dollar a man makes. Since 1963, the wage gap has narrowed by less than half a cent a year!

•In 1963 the most common female professions were secretary, teacher, cashier and domestic help. Today, the most common female professions are secretary, teacher, cashier and...registered nurse. Only one change in 47 years. Forty-three percent of all working women today fall into one of these categories.

•Using a point factor job evaluation system, the state of Minnesota found that "women's jobs" paid 20 percent less on average than male-dominated jobs, even when their jobs scored equally on the job evaluation system.

•One year out of college, despite having earned higher grade point averages in every subject, young women will take home, on average across all professions, just 80 percent of what their male colleagues do. Even at the top end, female MBAs make $4,600 less per year than men in their first job.

•It all adds up. Over a lifetime, a woman with a high school diploma will earn $700,000 less, with a college degree $1.2 million less and with a professional/post-graduate degree $2 million less than men with equal education in equivalent jobs.

If it still isn't sinking in, consider this. Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 20. That date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men (in equivalent jobs) earned in 2009. The reason the annual observance is held on a Tuesday is because that is how far a woman must work into the next workweek to earn as much as her male counterpart did the previous week.

There are a multitude of reasons why this wage gap has not been closed up. While a lot of those reasons lie with government and with employers (wage data is confidential, taking the issue to court is costly, etc.), women must also take responsibility for the issue.

Surveys show that women are more likely to undervalue themselves. They are less likely than men to ask for a raise and more likely to accept a salary offer without negotiating for a higher amount.

There are also some old-fashioned lines of thinking that, sadly, are still being used today as "reasons" why women don't or shouldn't earn as much as men:

•Men have families to support.

•A woman's income is just a supplemental income; her husband earns the main income.

•Women are less work-focused due to parenting and family needs, and are therefore less valuable to employers.

Congress has been focusing more heavily on the pay equity issue again in recent years with The Paycheck Fairness Act and The Fair Pay Act, but there's still a lot of work to do.

Things truly won't be equal until a woman is paid 100 cents for every $1 her male counterpart earns.

Sources: U.S. Department of Education, The WAGE Project, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Committee on Pay Equity.

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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