The Scandal of Unfair Pay
April 30, 2015
“Disparity is a pure scandal.” At his weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on April 29, Pope Francis stated a perspective that could apply to many types of inequality: wealth, economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and educational, just to name a few. However, his words on the unacceptable nature of inequality arose from his passion about gender equality, and equal pay for equal work specifically. We at NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, share his frustration and drive: full-time working women continue to earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. But what does this statistic really mean?
The most shocking aspect of such numbers is the exponential effect they have when extrapolated across a year, several decades, or even a lifetime of hard work. According to the White House, in 2011, a 25-year-old woman who worked full-time earned $5,000 less than a 25-year-old man. These “lost wages” total $34,000 by the time the same woman reaches age 35 and $431,000 by age 65. That is an immense amount of money that could be used to pay off entire mortgages, college and/or graduate school loans, or fund valuable opportunities for one’s children, not to mention being a sufficient quantity of money to buy the town of Swett, South Dakota! The true damage caused by such significant wage inequality can be observed not only in this flawed system of undervaluation, but also in the effect this has on the millions of families who depend on women as primary breadwinners. Over 50% of households in the United States count on women as breadwinners. This means that in over half of households in our country, those on whom over 49 million children depend do not receive the pay they deserve for the hard work they do. This is incredibly unjust, and must be remedied!
Pope Francis urges all of us, especially Catholics, to work towards a more just world in which we “support…with conviction the right of equal compensation for equal work.” He asks, “Why is it expected that women must earn less than men?” We at NETWORK echo his response: “No! They [women and men] have the same rights. The disparity [between women and men] is a pure scandal.” We, in turn, call upon our members of Congress to remedy this stunning inequality through fair wage legislation that will provide equal pay for equal work for all people, regardless of their gender. Some senators have already taken up the mantle of justice; we are very grateful to people like Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced S.2199, The Paycheck Fairness Act, towards the end of the 113th Congress in April 2014. A longtime champion of equal pay for equal work, Senator Mikulski described the emotions behind the current situation in our country eloquently: “It brings tears to my eyes to know women are working so hard and being paid less” (quoted in The Hill). We agree, which is why we are outraged by the blatant disregard for the rights and dignity of all women demonstrated by many senators last year, not once, but twice!
In 2014, there were two votes to advance The Paycheck Fairness Act, both of which were blocked by Senate Republicans. The first vote, on April 9, fell short by a count of 53-44, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans neglecting to do the same. History repeated itself on September 15 in a 52-40 vote. We are especially disappointed by the Catholic senators who failed to heed past calls from the Vatican to ensure that women and men receive equal pay for equal work. We at NETWORK will send two letters to the U.S. Senate later this week to remind those who represent us, and especially Catholics, to heed the call of Pope Francis and ensure fair and equal treatment of women and men as equal pay bills come to the floor this session. Inequality has continued for far too long, and it is time to put such disparity to rest once and for all. The current situation may be a “pure scandal,” in the words of Pope Francis, but we will continue to work and pray for a day when justice reigns supreme and wage laws in this country work not just for men, but for “We the People” and the 100%!