Equal Pay Day more important than ever amid COVID-19

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Luisa made $10.50 an hour working in the kitchen of a New York City supermarket. A supervisor who had repeatedly groped her turned to verbal abuse about her “bad timing” when she disclosed her second pregnancy. When she tried to avoid climbing ladders because of a risk of injury, another supervisor urged her to take unpaid maternity leave. After being fired for requesting time off to keep a prenatal doctor appointment, Luisa could only find a new job at a different supermarket at an entry-level salary.

Luisa’s name is a pseudonym to protect her privacy, but her story is real. It exemplifies the many reasons women continue to lag behind men when it comes to getting equal pay for equal work. Equal Pay Day, observed this year on March 31, marks the average amount of additional time it takes for a woman to earn what her male counterpart earned in 12 months in the previous year.

Look for supporters (in your social media feed) wearing red on March 31 to symbolize just how far in the red women are when it comes to pay.

Overall, women — working full time, year-round — earn 81.6 cents for every dollar earned by men. That comparison of median salaries, based on Census data, means that women working full time lose almost $900 billion every year due to the gender wage gap. That stunning amount could be used to cover the expense of groceries, health care, education and housing. For all the talk of leaning in and speaking out, millions of women are stuck in the wage gap and just focused on making ends meet.

The coronavirus pandemic is revealing the country’s economic inequity with painful contrasts. Some workers are able to work from home, pay for childcare and stock up on food. Others are pushed out of low-wage hourly jobs because of social distancing and must juggle childcare for children released from shuttered schools. Women are disproportionately those workers at the bottom. As the Institute for Women’s Policy Research notes, women are almost half the workforce — and the sole or co-breadwinner in half of American families with children.

Luisa’s story was recently shared in the testimony of A Better Balance (a legal advocacy organization) at a public hearing of the New York City Commission on Gender Equity, the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection on Equal Pay.  

Research shows that the pay gap is not just a matter of women working less than men, having less education or holding jobs that pay less. So here in New York City we are chipping away at a wage gap that is driven by a constellation of often intersecting factors: concentration in lower-paying jobs; sexual harassment; unfair compensation; racial discrimination; losing seniority and money because of pregnancy, childcare and other family duties.

New York is setting an example for the rest of the country with much needed policies and laws that — taken together — constitute a comprehensive approach to effect the cultural shift required for women to get and keep good jobs. We are creating a more supportive and family-friendly workplace for everyone.

Our universal pre-K and 3-K help parents better negotiate childcare duties. We mandate paid safe leave for a person of any gender snared in a domestic violence situation and offer paid sick leave. Knowing that women usually play catch up with men when it comes to pay, we banned potential employers from asking about salary history — and we were the first municipality in the country to do so. We raised the minimum wage, mandated family leave policies, and provided lactation rooms for nursing mothers. 

Between the two of us, we are the mothers of four daughters and one son. We know that this battle starts at home. We all need to be aware of what ethical values we model for our children and what we teach them about gender equity. Children must know that misogyny continues to hobble the dreams and ambitions of over half the population and hurts families.

The IWPR declares that if the wage gap continues changing at the same rate it has since 1960, it will take until 2059 for men and women to reach parity. That would be a travesty. As the African-American activist Fannie Lou Hamer put it, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Chirlane McCray is First Lady of New York City; her husband is Mayor Bill deBlasio. McCray created ThriveNYC. She also spearheads the Cities Thrive Coalition, with more than 200 mayors, county officials and thought leaders from all 50 states. She was named to TIME Magazine’s 50 Most Influential People in Health Care for 2018. Follow her on Twitter @NYCFirstLady.

Jacqueline M. Ebanks is executive director of the New York City Commission on Gender Equity, in the Office of the Mayor. She has worked for more than three decades to promote economic and social justice for women, girls, and marginalized communities. Follow her on Twitter @jmebanks60 and CGE @GenderEquityNYC.

Tags coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 Equal Pay Day Equal pay for equal work Gender pay gap New York City Parental leave

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