April 24th was Equal Pay Day, the day that marks how far into the calendar year the average woman must work to earn as much as a man earned last year.
Full-time women workers are paid an average of 77 cents for every dollar men are paid. Women of color are short-changed even more as African American women are paid only 68 cents and Latinas just 57 cents on men's dollar.
The WAGE Project estimates that this persistent wage gap costs the average full-time US woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life.
A new study by the American Association of University Women finds that education doesn't help overcome the difference. Women are paid about 80 percent of what men are paid one year out of college. But within 10 years, the gap grows to 69 percent – even after accounting for such factors as the number of hours worked, occupations, or parenthood.
An AFL-CIO survey of working women found that 57 percent of the respondents believe their employers do not compensate them equal to their male counterparts.
The most successful tool for closing the gender pay gap has been the union. According to labor statistics, women who belong to unions earn 31 percent more than their non-union counterparts.
Legislative efforts to close the pay gap include two bills introduced in this session of Congress. The Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act would provide legal remedies for victims of the gender gap, outlaw gender-based wage discrimination, and establish the principle of comparable worth.
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said, "Day-to-day, women struggle to make ends meet and provide for their families. [The gender gap] hurts their ability to save for a home, for medical emergencies, or for retirement. We need this legislation now more than ever."
Men have a stake in supporting equal pay. Women adversely affected by the gender gap are their mothers, sisters, intimate partners, and children. Additionally, men who work in fields predominantly held by women are also victimized by the gender gap.
In the end the gender gap is a tool of super-exploitation and division. The billions stolen from women each year through the gender gap do not end up in the pockets of male co-workers. They end up on the corporate bottom line as profit.
Using right-wing propaganda to convince men that either they have an interest in maintaining the gender gap or that it doesn't exist divides working people by gender. It weakens the unity needed to create a democratic society where each has an equal voice and receives a just reward for their contributions.