What's Equal Pay Day, and why does it matter? A quick explainer

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IMAGES MONEY / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0
  • IMAGES MONEY / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0

Today is Equal Pay Day, a symbolic date meant to highlight the wage gap between men and women. On this day, women's advocates point to problems with pay as one of the key drivers of inequality between the sexes. Women's lower wages (by some counts, 67 cents on the dollar in Louisiana) can't be explained away by industry, occupation, personal choices or education level; a recent Atlantic article found that pay equity problems appear dramatically even among Ivy League graduates with white-collar careers, such as finance or law.

The date for Equal Pay Day falls on the day when women's wages catch up to men's wages from the previous year. For example, to make the same amount of money as a man in 2016, women would have had to work for all of 2016, plus an additional three months and three days. It's a provocative illustration of the problem, for if women have to log hundreds of extra hours just to keep pace, that means they're (we're) perpetually in the hole.

Women's and political organizations nationwide are celebrating Equal Pay Day with different gestures meant to highlight the ongoing disparity. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (in New Orleans May 9) started a campaign called #20percentcounts, which calls on businesses to discount women's purchases by 20 percent to highlight their typically lower incomes. Members of Congress may reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is meant to fight wage discrimination via measures such as protection for employees who discuss salaries with colleagues.

Locally, there's a party tonight at The Cannery which features lectures, networking opportunities and the chance to have professional head shots taken. At home, you can watch Stephen Colbert interview Lilly Ledbetter, whose fight for equal pay inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; or consider checking out this interactive graph, which reveals the pay gap in each state broken down by ethnicity. (The pay gap for women of color, especially black women, is much larger than the pay gap overall.)

For men who are feeling particularly motivated, you might take a cue from this list of concrete activities for feminist-aligned men:

33. Walk the walk about income inequality.

Women still earn about 77 percent as much as men. If you are in a position where you are financially able to do so, consider donating a symbolic 23 percent of your income to social justice-oriented causes.
If 23 percent sounds like a lot to you, that’s because it is a lot and it’s also a lot for women who don’t have a choice whether to forfeit this amount or not.

Happy Equal Pay Day, everyone. Hopefully we won't celebrate this dubious holiday forever.

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