Just before Labor Day, whitehouse.gov released a Chart of the Week illustrating that, among college graduates four years after graduation, women earn less than men in nearly every field of study. A salary gap among recent college graduates is disturbing for two reasons.
First, it suggests that women are earning less than men right away—even before many of them leave the labor force or reduce their hours due to family responsibilities. Second, pay disparities that start early are only exacerbated throughout women’s careers. Whitehouse.gov reported that by age 65, the average woman will have lost $431,000 over her working lifetime due to the earnings gap.
The gender pay gap is real, and it likely affects numerous women who do not even realize they are underpaid relative to their male colleagues. As Maya Sequeira wrote earlier this summer, many women are unaware of disparities in pay between male and female employees because most private-sector employers insist on keeping compensation information secret and, as Martina Radney wrote last month, a majority of undergraduates do not believe discrimination will happen to them, despite statistics revealing otherwise. While some lawmakers have tried to remedy this by introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, earlier this year Congress failed to pass the bill that would explicitly have made it illegal for companies to retaliate against workers for talking about their pay.
While President Obama has prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against workers who talk about their pay, more must be done to ensure that women are able to identify when they are being underpaid. As Kate Kimpel has written, those who care about workplace fairness should reach out to their elected officials to pressure them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. But more immediately, workers should not shy away from questioning their supervisors about how their hourly rates and salaries stack up against their colleagues’ and should not shy away from discussing this with their colleagues and friends. While it may not be easy to bring up fair pay at your Labor Day BBQ, taking this small step toward identifying and eliminating the pay gap may be the best way to celebrate labor this week.