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Working from home or not, women's pay still lags

Due to the spike of the coronavirus and its subsequent limitations on daily life, many folks in Southern Maryland are working from home these days. Many are undoubtedly working even harder, as the boundaries between the office and family life get blurred. Emails and teleconferences creep into times that previously were spent getting ready to leave for work, or decompressing after returning home.

And wherever they’re working, it seems women are still doing it for less pay overall. Those are the findings of both the National Committee on Pay Equity and the American Association of University Women.

Tuesday, March 31, was Equal Pay Day. That date symbolizes how far into the next year women would have to work to earn equal to what men earned in the previous year. It’s a little better than last year’s mark of April 2, but there’s still quite a gap there.

According to the NCPE, women in the United States earn 81.6 cents for every dollar a man earns. The UUAW reports that the situation is a little brighter in Maryland, where women earn 86 cents on the dollar compared to men. That’s the fourth best rate in the nation, but both in Maryland and across the country, the figures are even worse for women of color.

Equal Pay Day was originated in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. It was initially called National Pay Inequity Awareness Day.

According to a release from the NCPE, “the myth is that the gender wage gap is a true distinction in talent between men and women. The gender wage gap is a serious issue and can limit women in terms of both earning potential and promotions. By not addressing this myth fully, we harm women in their earning and career prospects.”

The AAUW pledges to close the pay gap by 2030. This effort includes advocating to update and change state and federal laws, working with employers and industries to improve practices and supporting women to better negotiate their own financial futures.

Of course, the approaching Maryland minimum wage law will eventually help women as well as men. If you recall from last year’s General Assembly session (which was not cut short by a global pandemic), the minimum wage will rise to $15 an hour by 2025. Businesses with 14 or fewer employees will have until 2026 to get up to that pay plateau. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed it, saying it would be disastrous for small businesses, but both houses of the heavily Democratic state legislature had enough votes to override the veto.

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed into federal law. At that time, women were making just 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. Over the next 57 years, wars have been won and lost, nations have changed names and their leaderships, and technology and education have boomed worldwide. But the pay gap remains.

Some sociologists and economists say the 18.4-cent U.S. difference doesn’t take into account the different definitions of full-time employment, and suggest a better snapshot between the sexes would be comparing average weekly wages instead of annual wages.

While the actual size of the pay gap may be debatable, the fact of it is not. In many ways, the focus on a tidy number distracts attention from more complex problems about wage earners, gaps between the sexes and income inequality.

Indeed, the wage gap between the sexes should be closed. It shouldn’t take women 90 days to catch up to what men earn.

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