Is It 2157 Yet? How Businesses and Policymakers Can Accelerate the Timeline for Equal Pay

At our current pace, we won’t close the wage gap between men and women until the year 2157. We must speed up the process—we can’t hand off this same injustice to our great-great granddaughters. 

equal-pay-minimum-wage-paid-leave-women-workers
The latest data shows women are paid just 83 cents for every dollar paid to men for the exact same work. (U.N. Women / Ryan Brown)

Equal Pay Day for women can feel like shouting into the void. The latest data shows women are paid just 83 cents for every dollar paid to men for the exact same work—a number that’s hardly budged in two decades.

The numbers are even more depressing for women of color. For every dollar paid to a white man:

  • Black women are paid 58 cents, down from 63 cents last year.
  • Native women are paid 50 cents, compared to 60 cents in 2021.
  • Latinas are paid only 49 cents, compared to 2021’s 55 cents.

The problem is not that women choose to do lower-paying work—since women are paid less for the same work. It’s that no matter what career we choose, society undervalues our worth. At our current pace, we won’t close the wage gap between men and women until the year 2157. That’s nearly 136 years from now, with 36 of those added to make up for pandemic setbacks. In short, we simply must speed up the process. We can’t hand off this same injustice to our great-great granddaughters. 

The money we lose out on is incredibly consequential to us as people and limits our opportunity for the American Dream, making us less likely to own homes or have capital to start our own businesses.

We’re told we need better education to compete with men—yet Black women with advanced degrees (master’s, Ph.D.s, J.D.s) are paid less on average than white men with only a bachelor’s degree. And women also hold two-thirds of the country’s $1.7 trillion student loan debt.

We’re told we don’t need to be paid as much, because men can be our breadwinners—yet women are more than four times as likely as men to be single parents supporting families.

We’re told to go right back to work after having babies so we don’t fall behind men—but women who become parents see our pay drop by 30 percent (and no joke, men see a 20 percent bonus for becoming parents).

And while we tend to live longer than men, we’re supposed to do it on less: Because of the wage gap, women at retirement age typically receive 20 percent less in Social Security benefits than men and have less in retirement savings.

If women were paid fairly, it would benefit us as individuals, but also our society on the whole: It would cut our nation’s poverty rate in half, as well as inject $512.6 billion into the U.S. economy.

So how can public policymakers, philanthropy and private businesses come together to accelerate the process? As someone who tracks women’s economic mobility and as a funder of gender and racial justice, these are my recommendations for how to make the most impactful changes to close the wage gap faster.

1. Raise the Federal Minimum Wage to $15.

Women fill 88 percent of roles in the U.S. where the pay is typically less than $15 per hour, and more than 740,000 women are still working for the federal minimum wage—just $7.25/hour. By raising the floor, more than a third of all women of color in this country would get a raise. And the impact of that would be huge: Studies show previous increases in the federal minimum wage have reduced racial wage gaps by 20 percent, and states with a minimum wage of $10 or more have seen a 34 percent reduction in the gender wage gap.

While most states raised their own minimum wages recently (though most not to $15) or agreed to raise theirs this year, the federal minimum hasn’t been adjusted in 13 years, and Congress will need to change it to nudge the remaining states out of working-poor pay for women, especially women of color. The Chicago Foundation for Women is partnering with One Fair Wage to raise the minimum in Illinois and 25 other foot-dragging states.

2. Provide National Paid Family Leave to All Employees.

The best way for women to be able to keep earning—while also managing our disproportionate care responsibilities for babies, kids, partners and elders—is through paid family leave. Studies show new mothers who are able to take paid leave are more likely to stay in the workforce and are 54 percent more likely to see wage increases, versus women who take no leave.

Right now, the problem is access, because the people who would benefit the most (low-income women and women of color) are the least likely to have access to paid leave; less than 5 percent of America’s lowest-earning people can access such programs. And while women’s funds are pushing for changes at the state level, such as the Women’s Fund of Colorado’s advocacy that helped pass the statewide 12-week paid family leave policy, we need a federal policy (Build Back Better 2.0?) to ensure every woman can have a baby or take care of a sick relative without financial ruin, regardless of her zip code.

3. Change Practices Around Hiring. 

We know women are offered less for the same work, and that when women, especially Black women, try to negotiate for a higher salary, we’re perceived as unlikeable and pushy (worse yet, after risking all that, we’re still unlikely to get the bump we’ve asked for). Transparency in listing the salary for job postings can help reduce racial and gender bias, which is why Connecticut’s Aurora Foundation for Women & Girls prioritized advocating for Public Act 21-30, requiring employers across the state to disclose the salary range for vacant positions. 

Another factor that can help is barring employers from asking about an applicant’s current salary, since it traps women who were previously underpaid in a career-long cycle of playing catch up. (Asking for an applicant’s “salary expectations” is a workaround to the same thing, and should also be a no-go.) Several studies have found salary history bans work well, leading to wage increases for women and people of color. More than a dozen states, plus some cities such as Cincinnati and New York, have already enacted such bans, but the rest of the country needs to catch up—and even if it’s not required in the state where they’re hiring, companies should pledge to both share salaries and ban asking salary history as part of their commitment to diversity.

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Up next:

About

Elizabeth Barajas-Román is president and chief executive officer of the Women’s Funding Network. You can follow her on Twitter at @FuturePresente.