Imagine being a skilled individual working more than forty hours a week. You possess a highly sought-after degree from college, and you are simply hoping to earn a stable income to support your family. Now, imagine discovering that, despite all your effort and the fact that you work the same number of hours and perform the same assignments as your colleague, you earn less than they do, simply because of your race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.
Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, stating that no employer shall discriminate on the basis of sex for equal work, the narrative outlined above is one describing millions of Americans today. Even taking maternity leave into account, the average white woman working the same jobs with similar educational backgrounds will earn ¢74 for every dollar a white man will. When looking at black women, the gap is 63%. When looking at Hispanic or Latina women, it drops to 54%. This means that the average Hispanic woman makes half as much as the average man. Pay disparities exist beyond gender as well and, adjusted for inflation, the median income of an African American household was $39,490 in 2017, in contrast to $41,363 in 2000, according to the US Census Bureau. It also reported that in 2015, the average hourly wages for black and Hispanic men were $15 and $14, respectively, compared to $21 for white men.
The fact that distinct populations living in America earn significantly less than other groups of people is a symptom of a larger problem in America: discrimination. Employment opportunities should always be based on an individual’s qualifications, not the way they were born. Those affected by the implicit sexism and racism that pervades our society have no choice but to accept the inequality they face if they want to continue working, if they want to be able to support themselves and their families. They are forced to accept the fact that their race makes them “less valuable” to employers. They are forced to accept the injustice we have all been raised with. The are forced to accept a lie that far too many believe: that race or gender or sexuality affects their job performance at all.
It is time to end this unjust narrative and begin a new one, but to do this we must acknowledge that a problem actually exists. It is ridiculous to assume that the status quo is “progress”– that, because we have improved marginally, this problem is even close to being solved. Yes, the Equal Pay Act helped. No, it did not silence the conversation about this issue. Rather than “celebrating equality” before equality has been truly achieved, we need to recognize and end the deeply rooted discrimination in America. In an attempt to do so, Equal Pay Day was created in 1996 to symbolize the extra work women must do every day of their careers. In 2018, it was on April 10th, meaning that the 100 days between January 1st and then were what the average woman worked to earn the same as her male counterpart. Maybe one day, we can get that date down to March, to February, perhaps even to the New Year. Maybe one day, employers throughout the nation and the globe will realize that nothing about a person’s race, gender, or sexuality diminishes their work product.
Unfortunately right now, an overwhelming amount of Americans perceive these pay gaps to be a myth. They pretend to see equality where none exists, and this ignorance only inhibits the potential for change. It is time to for our voices to be heard, for awareness to be spread, and finally, for real legislation that addresses the shortcomings of the Equal Pay Act to be created and sustained. So, do not do what millions have before you. Do not plead ignorance. Do not turn the statistics in your favor. It is time to abolish income inequality once and for all.