Monday, June 10, 2013

Equal Pay Act 50 years later

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Equal Pay Act. It was signed by then President JFK to help narrow the gender wage gap. 

Since that time, women's employment rights have improved considerably, including pay. Yes, there is still a margin between what men and women make, but it's fair to say that this act, along with the tireless advocacy of many has narrowed that difference. In fact, a recent Pew Research study found that of the 40 percent of working women it surveyed, 37 percent were earning more than their spouses. 

Of course, there is still plenty of work to do before that gap disappears. The challenge though is not necessarily to campaign for higher earnings for women. Instead, the goal should be to give women the support they need so that more of us stay working. 

We can start with quality childcare. Ask any mother and she will list that as her top challenge. What we need is childcare that is accessible year round, including summer months. As I've stated here numerous times, the facilities that are available are either at capacity or don't open their doors long enough to support the eight-hour workday. Many mothers find themselves either having to pay for extra care or dropping out of the workforce to care for their own kids. And trying  to keep up with a child's babysitters when using several of them makes it awfully difficult to focus at work. Even though many schools have opened their doors for additional care to accommodate working mothers, they have to contend with long waiting lists and affording the extra staff, or just finding someone willing to volunteer. 

But this does not overshadow the importance of the Equal Pay Act. Its exposure has placed equal employment rights on the forefront, with the intent to help improve the challenges working mothers still face. What is needed though is a shift in focus: from increased wages to giving women tangible support by making childcare affordable and available. The way I see it, we are a talented species. We can catch up to men in pay if we can stay in the labor force long enough to prove our worth. That will happen only when we can arrive at work knowing our kids are in good hands. 

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