Tax season is a reminder of the invisible discrimination of pay inequity

Tax season feels ostensibly like a chore. But for many working Americans, April is a reminder of the often invisible and blatant discrimination that exists in the U.S. labor force. Unintended, economic consequences restrict women disproportionately to the tune of billions of dollars each year. In 2019, unequal rights for our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters prevent women from earning identically to men, advancing in their careers, planning for retirement and contributing wholly to their respective state and America’s economic prosperity.

Inequities are everywhere. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) gauges the length of time women work annually to achieve pay equity. The impacts are profound when quantifying the simple truth that females earn nearly 20 cents on the dollar less than their male counterparts, aka the gender wage gap. April 2, 2019 marked Equal Pay Day, which specified the date women worked to gross, on average, what males earned last year. 

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Besides White women’s Equal Pay Day on April 19, 2019, there is a four-month interval before the next Equal Pay Daywhich began March 5, 2019 with Asian American women’s Equal Pay Day. AAUW recognizes August 22, 2019 as Black women’s Equal Pay Day, September 23, 2019 will be Native women’s Equal Pay Day and November 20, 2019 will be Latinas’ Equal Pay Day. That sequence reveals that Latinas face the largest wage disparity of nearly 53 cents on the dollar, Black women earn 61 cents on the dollar and Native American women nearly 57 cents on the dollar.

The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute says Equal Pay Day is a reminder that you can’t “mansplain” away the gender pay gap. Critics claim that these pay differences are based on factors such as education, choice of profession, level of experience and desire for flexibility. But economists report that even when controlled for factors such as job tenure, education level, work experience, hours worked, college major, geographical region, race and ethnicity and other factors, a wage gap persists that can only be explained by gender bias

Female doctors, for example, are paid about $20,000 less a year than male doctors. Reasons for this wage gap include the higher likelihood that a female has spent time out of the workforce for family reasons and occupational gender segregation, i.e., that men and women often work different jobs. Studies have shown that, when certain occupations transition between being male-dominated and female-dominated, the pay drops if there are more women working in the field and increases with the entrance of men.

Women comprise 51 percent of the population, but too many Americans tolerate and justify invisible discrimination. So, what more do women want? They demand equality to men. American women have earned equality for generations. Who says women have fewer bills to pay or mouths to feed?  In the United States, half of all households with children under 18 have a breadwinner mother, who is either a single mother who heads a household, regardless of earnings, or a married mother who provides at least 40 percent of the couple’s joint earnings.

But, finally, women and men across America are standing up to this economic discrimination in the form of a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would guarantee equality to all sexes. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is not in the Constitution, but we propose redressing a centuries-old omission. The 24-word text of the ERA is simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Some might ask why ratifying the ERA is necessary — isn’t sex discrimination already prohibited? While it is true that federal and state law prohibits discrimination based on sex in some circumstances, these laws are not comprehensive and can be repealed, amended, or overturned. The ERA would make sex equality a constitutional right.

But will the ERA help close the gender pay gap? According to the AAUW, every U.S. state has a gender pay gap, and some are wider than others. But what we do know is that women in states with a guarantee of equal rights in their state constitution fare economically better in relation to men than in states without a constitutional guarantee of equal rights. Colorado, Delaware and Maryland have state constitutional provisions that are essentially identical to the ERA. In these states, women’s earnings are between three and 7 cents closer to those of men.

The Alaska, Connecticut, and New Hampshire constitutions ensure that no person shall be denied their rights on account of sex. There, nearly equal percentages of men and women live above poverty.

Compare those cases to Missouri and 12 other ERA-unratified states where constitutions carry no guarantee of equality between sexes. Women in the Show-Me state, for example, earn 80 cents to each dollar made by men where they are also more likely to live below the poverty line

The wide-ranging economic benefits that would result from treating men and women equally are hard to argue with. Analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 60 percent of women would receive a pay increase if paid the same as men of the same age with similar education and hours of work. The poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by half, from 28.9 percent to 14.5 percent. And the U.S. economy would produce additional income of $512.6 billion if women received equal pay. 

If either Missouri, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina or Virginia were to become the historic 38th state to enshrine sex equality into the Constitution, bragging rights alone would show the world that the United States stands for equal pay for equal work. The 38th state to ratify will project an aura of inclusion and prosperity through passage of the ERA. The resulting windfall of talent will prove attractive as major corporations expand and relocate.  Except, the money won’t just flow to women — it will holistically and economically advantage the entire nation.

Winsome McIntosh is the president of the McIntosh Foundation, which for 50 years, has dedicated itself to establishing the legal strategies and philanthropy needed to bring about systemic, societal change.