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Equal Pay Day: Why It Matters and What We Can Do

Equal Pay Day: Why It Matters and What We Can Do

Split image of half of a man and a woman side by side

April 2 is Equal Pay Day, the day in April dedicated, annually, to educating and addressing the wage gap between men and women.

Why does this exist – and why is it in April?

On average, women earn less in comparison to men, though further breakdowns show additional disparities. While a white woman earns about 77 cents to a dollar earned by a white male peer, Black women earn only 61 cents to the dollar, and Latina women only 53 cents. This means that the average woman must work far into the next year just to make up the difference between what a male peer earned the previous year.

In other words, women, on average, work into April of the next year just to catch up to the earning a male peer made by the previous December – hence the date of Equal Pay Day. The difference compounds year by year, and at the end of a woman’s working career, what started as a small gap has turned into a yawning earnings gulf.

What progress has been made?

Studies done by Reform organizations show that even in our own community, female professionals – including rabbis, cantors, and educators – face wage disparities. To that end, Women of Reform Judaism and the Women’s Rabbinic Network are working collaboratively to engage all Reform institutions on this important issue. A year and half ago, the broader Reform Jewish Movement created the Reform Pay Equity Initiative (RPEI), an effort to address the wage gap and commit to pay equity for women who work within the Reform community. 

Federally, though, there’s only been limited progress on the issue of pay disparity.

Ten years ago, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, overturning the 2007 Supreme Court decision that upheld a severely restricted time period for workers to file complaints concerning pay discrimination. Prior to the Ledbetter Act, employees were required to file a complaint within 180 days of the original paycheck in which they were paid less than a coworker of similar role. This, of course, gave very little time for workers to even discover pay discrepancies and discrimination, never mind address them.

The Ledbetter act is a critical tool, especially for women and minorities, to combat wage discrimination – but it isn’t enough. At our current rate of progress, it will take 50 to 100 years for women to reach parity with men.

What do our Jewish values say?

Jewish tradition has long recognized the importance of paying fair wages. The Talmud teaches us, “One who withholds an employee's wages is as though [he] has deprived [him] of his life" (Baba Metzia 112a). This also tells us that Judaism recognizes pay equity as more than solely a “women's issue”; it’s a civil and human rights issue.

What can we do?

It’s time to urge Congress to end pay discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would deter pay discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages. We celebrate the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7) in the House of Representatives on March 27 – and now, it’s up to the Senate to act.

Show your support for this vital piece of legislation by urging your Senators to co-sponsor and urge for the swift passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2019 (S.270). Our friends at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism make it easy to write to your Senators with just a couple clicks of the mouse.

This Equal Pay Day, let’s take concrete action toward ending pay discrimination. It’s past time.

B. Lana Guggenheim is a former communications associate for the Union for Reform Judaism. She graduated with a BA from Hunter College and an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has worked as a journalist, editor, and analyst covering international affairs, Jewish life, and Israel affairs for Jewcy, Tablet, the Forward, South EU Summit, and more.

B. Lana Guggenheim
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