Pay equality — It’s not just for feminists

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Amid all the hullabaloo at the Capitol this week, an important issue went largely unnoticed.

The National Partnership for Women & Families released a new study to coincide with Equal Pay Day, which was Tuesday.

Data in the report underscores why Equal Pay Day is scheduled when it is — women would have to work all of 2017 and the first 100 days of 2018, to make what their male peers were paid in 2017 alone.

On average, American women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,086. The wage gap costs American women about $900 billion per year.

Pay inequality strikes particularly hard at women of color.

Black women are paid only 63 cents and Latinas just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

It may be tempting to think this is an isolated issue. But, the study reveals just how pervasive is income inequality.

In 422 of the country’s 435 congressional districts (97 percent), the median annual pay for women is less than that paid to men.

Nationwide, women are not likely to receive an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

And, what of Oklahoma?

Brace yourself for the shocking news: We’re nearly the worst.

Oklahoma has the fifth largest gender pay gap in the nation. The worst is Louisiana, followed by Utah, West Virginia, Montana and our dear Oklahoma, where the winds of change refuse to blow.

Women in Oklahoma are paid just 74 cents on the dollar compared to men, adding up to a yearly wage gap of $12,055. Oklahoma women lose $10.2 billion every year to pay inequality.

Several federal laws propose to remedy this issue. The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen workplace protections for women, and the Fair Pay Act would reduce gender-based occupational segregation.

Those are good and worthwhile pieces of legislation. But, legislation will only go so far when the sentiment of the nation is against equality.

After all, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 became law in — you guessed it — 1963.

That was 55 years ago, and still we turn a blind eye to half our workforce being cheated out of 11 to 30 cents on the dollar in each paycheck.

Now, I’ve pointed out a few times before why this is important to me.

First, I’d like to think it’s because I’m an American, and I bought into all that equality and justice stuff they sold me in grade school. But, I’m also a husband and father of two daughters, and the thought of them being cheated out of pay they’ve earned is infuriating.

It should be infuriating to you, too. And, it should be infuriating to me, even if I wasn’t married with two daughters. It should be infuriating simply because, in America, it’s wrong to cheat someone out of what they’ve earned.

But, maybe you still can’t get behind pay equality because it’s a “women’s issue,” or, God forbid, a “feminist issue.”

Let’s change the narrative, then. Pay equality is a family issue.

Mothers are breadwinners in half of all American families with children younger than 18. And, those mothers make out worse than women in general, receiving just 71 cents for every dollar paid to working fathers.

Half of all American families are being cheated out of money that’s due them — money needed to pay for housing, food, education, for everything.

Set aside the gender issue for just a sec. Focus on the family, if you like that terminology, and look back at the numbers.

Families in our state are being cheated out of $10.2 billion (roughly half the state’s annual budget). For America as a whole, the pay gap adds up to about a quarter of the annual budget.

What could be done with that money to strengthen families and improve outcomes for the next generation? Given the squabbling in Oklahoma City over tens of millions, imagine what $10.2 billion could do in this state. Imagine what $900 billion (annually!) would do for the next generation of Americans.

And, here’s the part that should warm the most fiscally conservative heart: Those dollars don’t have a darn thing to do with taxes. The money’s already being earned. It just needs to be paid without regard to gender.

Pay equality is the right thing to do. It’s not just a feminist issue. It’s a family issue. And, I would hope we could all get behind that.

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