WASHINGTON Jan 28 U.S. women's paychecks will
not catch up to men's for another 40 years at the current rate
of improvement, experts say, a situation U.S. president Barack
Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address, calling for
policy changes he hopes will close the gap sooner.
"A woman deserves equal pay for equal work," Obama said in
his address on Tuesday. "It's time to do away with workplace
policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode."
Women who work full time make 77 cents for every dollar a
man earns. That disparity has pushed more women into poverty
despite higher educational levels, according to labor experts
and women's rights advocates.
The gender pay gap narrowed greatly between the 1960s and
1990s, but the momentum has slowed. At the current rate, it is
expected to close by 2056.
"It's really tied to the fact that our current workplace
policies haven't been updated to reflect the fact that the
workplace has changed," said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president
for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center.
Women comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce according
to U.S. Labor Department data. Women are also the sole or
primary breadwinners for about 40 percent of U.S. households
with children below 18, according to the Pew Research Center.
Obama is pushing Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act,
a Senate bill that would prohibit employers from retaliating
against employees who share salary information with co-workers.
It also would require employers to show that any pay
discrepancies are tied to job performance, not gender.
Women's labor rights advocates see that bill as important
for women to combat pay discrimination and win higher wages.
Many private employers prohibit employees from sharing
information about what they earn.
"I think it's going to take an all out attack on the outdated
policies that we have," Graves said.
Obama is also pushing for more favorable workplace policies
such as paid work leave, minimum wage increases and greater
access to pre-K education. These policies are popular with
women, many of whom must balance full-time jobs with domestic
duties, and often have to take time off to tend to sick children
"Don't punish people for looking after their families," said
Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for
Women's Policy Research. "If you look at who is poor and who is
likely to remain poor, women are the majority."
The Institute for Women's Policy Research estimates that the
poverty rate for working women would be cut in half if women
earned as much as men.
The pay gap appears narrower in lower-wage jobs than in
higher wage jobs, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the
Economic Policy Institute. But she noted that the reason is not
because women are doing better, but because men in lower wage
jobs are doing worse.
"That's not the kind of improvement women want," Shierholz
said. "If you could solve inequality overall, you'd have helped
a lot of women."