Nat’l Pay Day recognizes disparities

Women in Minnesota earn 80 cents for every dollar men make.

Tyler Gieseke

Despite a 2009 amendment to the Civil Rights Act and a national day of recognition, pay inequalities between men and women have remained largely unchanged in recent years.

Women made 77 cents for every dollar men did in 2011, showing no significant change from 2010, according to U.S. Census data.

National Equal Pay Day, which Obama declared Tuesday, recognizes the ongoing inequality. The day of recognition falls in April to show women need to work more than 15 months to earn what men do in a year, according to the president’s proclamation.

In his proclamation, Obama said he will continue to push Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prevent employers from paying women less than men for equal work and also protect women who speak out about pay inequities.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which Obama signed soon after taking office, allows an employee to file a complaint about unequal pay within 180 days of receiving the violating paycheck and restarts this clock with each paycheck.

It’s “very heartening” that pay equity is being taken seriously across the nation, said Peg Lonnquist, director of the University of Minnesota’s Women’s Center.

“The disheartening part is that we’re not there yet,” Lonnquist said.

Minnesota’s earnings ratio is slightly above that of the nation as a whole — women in Minnesota earn about 80 percent of men’s average salary, according to a report released this year by the American Association of University Women.

Pay equity has been a past issue in the state. A 1982 bill for pay equity in state government jobs passed with no testimony in opposition. The act stated pay must be determined based on the value of the work performed.

Nationwide pay disparities are “appalling,” said Charmaine Stewart, chair of the University’s Women’s Faculty Cabinet, which serves an advisory role to the provost on issues concerning women faculty.

A pay equity study the cabinet released in 2010 showed a pay gap of 6 percent between male and female University faculty members. The University is currently conducting a similar study to determine whether this gap still exists, Stewart said.

Inequities might not be deliberate or intentional, she said, but awareness is the first step in removing them.

National Equal Pay Day helps increase this awareness, Stewart said.

“It causes you to stop,” she said. “Reflection with action [is] what we need, I think.”