The Injustice of Unequal Pay

It’s been 16 years since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, but the data shows that at this pace, we’re not going to close the gender wage gap until 2059.

I can’t speak for all women, but I refuse to wait that long.

Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Today, women across the United States will have earned as much since January of last year as their male counterparts made by the year’s end in December. Equal Pay Day should be a celebration of how far we’ve come in advancing women’s economic equality. Instead, today we’re still calling attention to a centuries-long injustice—one that continues to impact millions of Americans on a daily basis.

The fact is that women and men still do not make the same amount of money for the same work. White women still make only 80 cents for every dollar a white man makes, and women of color make even less. Latinas earn only 53 cents on every white man’s dollar; they won’t celebrate Equal Pay Day until November 20th.

Closing the wage gap is about more than just dollars and cents. It’s about asserting that women are just as valuable, and have just as much worth in our society, as men.

Judaism envisions a society rooted in principles of justice—and as a rabbi, I view equal pay for equal worth as a fundamental matter of achieving that justice. Wage discrimination pay hurts whole families, exploits workers and propagates inequality elsewhere in our culture at-large.

Closing the wage gap will take conscious effort from all sectors of our society. Eliminating gender bias is a challenging but crucial task in our workplaces, our communities and our society as a whole—and it starts with acknowledging that such inequities exist.

Implicit bias inventories are strong places to start when it comes to creating a level playing field in hiring, promotions and salary decisions at any organization. Employers can also use salary studies to set wages, or provide open salary structures ands promote pay transparency, to foster pay equity and protect employees from discrimination.

Another troubling cause of the gender pay gap is the power dynamic between employers and employees. Employees, especially at lower income levels, often have little choice but to work under poor conditions and for low wages, simply in order to survive and provide for their families. Unfair pay impacts women’s access to food, health care, childcare, education and pension and retirement savings. The long-term losses women incur over their lifetimes cannot ever be fully repaired unless we insist on wage equality from the start and rights for all workers. It’s also important that leaders hire more women, and that managers and executives in every sector encourage and empower them to pursue positions of leadership.

Disparities in women’s opportunities and in their wages extends even into our synagogues and Jewish institutions—organizations deeply committed to justice issues in other areas of our society. As I step into my new role as Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and become the first woman to serve as the leader of a legacy institution of the Reform Movement, continuing to develop strategies to address gender inequality and other issues affecting women in our community will be one of my priorities.  Through our Task Force on Women in the Rabbinate, we will continue to identify and take steps to address inequality and advance our foundational values.

History has proven that women can, and will, succeed in advancing our equality—even if progress feels unbearably slow, and if we still have far to go. My values, as a Jewish leader and an American, demands my solidarity in making that possible.


Rabbi Hara Person, current and first female chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), oversees lifelong rabbinic learning, professional development and career services, CCAR Press (liturgy, sacred texts, educational materials, apps and other content for Reform clergy, congregations and Jewish organizations) and critical resources and thought leadership for the 2,200 reform rabbis who serve more than 2 million reform Jews throughout North America, Israel and the world.