Equal Pay Day – 2017

By Bill Barclay

April 4, 2017, is the day when we’ll reach the point in 2017 at which time the typical woman (receiving median pay) in the United States will, when she adds the amount she was paid in 2016 to the amount she has been paid year-to-date, get the same amount of income that her male counterpart (receiving median pay) got in 2016. This is called “Equal Pay Day” and has been designated since 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity to call attention to the gender disparity in wages.

Of course, as the chart below illustrates, unequal pay by gender has been around for much longer than the past two decades. (Indeed, in the Old Testament, Leviticus 27, verses 2-5, mandates that a woman receive 60% of a man’s earnings.) While the long-term trend in the United States has been towards a narrowing of the gap, progress has not been linear. There are time periods during which there was almost no reduction in the female/male wage gap, and there have been short periods in which a significant reduction in the gender wage gap occurred.

* Female labor force participation rate

** Married women labor force participation rate


So, what can we say about these different periods? The first long period is the thirty years between 1950 and 1980: there was virtually no change in the gender wage gap. In 1950 the median woman made 59.4% of her male counterpart’s wages, and in 1980 she made 60.9%. This “Betty Friedan” generation of women who read her book The Feminine Mystique certainly went into the labor force, especially married women, whose labor force participation rate doubled between 1950 and 1980.* But when they got there, they found that gender discrimination was rampant, despite the 1960s legislation prohibiting gender wage discrimination.

So why the progress in the 1980s? There were probably three reasons. First, in the 1970s there were significant legal cases that prevented employers from circumventing the equal pay requirements simply by renaming jobs or paying women “the going market rate.”  But there are two other things also happening. Beginning in the 1980s, men’s wages stagnate or grow very slowly. So women entering the labor force are gaining on a slowly moving target – the median male wage. As a result of outsourcing and the onset of deindustrialization in parts of the United States, male wages, especially in manufacturing, lagged the growth of female wages. And, by the end of the 1970s, a much larger proportion of women entering the labor force had finished college and were going into higher paid jobs compared to the traditional female fields of nursing and public school teaching. This shift in female occupational distribution also reduced the gender wage gap.

The gap did not close in the following decade. But in the 2000-2010 period another significant narrowing occurred. And this time the median wages of both genders grew. However, almost all of the narrowing in the gender wage gap occurred prior to the 2008 financial crisis and the onset of the Great Recession. There has been virtually no progress in reducing the gender wage gap since then. It is unlikely that the Trump regime will make this issue a major concern.

There is one additional pattern that is important to highlight: the gender wage gap is much larger at top end of the wage distribution than at the low end. Women in the bottom 10th decile (10%) of income earners are paid over 90% of what men in that decile are paid. However, at the 95th decile, women are paid only 74% of what their male counterparts are paid. This disparity is probably the result of two forces. First, at the low end of the wage distribution, minimum wage laws make it difficult to pay women less. The Fight for $15 is not just a good way to attack class inequality, it is a good way to attack gender inequality. At the other end of the wage distribution, top income jobs in often demand long and inflexible working hours. There is, in effect, a motherhood penalty since U.S. women still do a disproportionate share of childcare.

Universal parental and childcare policies are a demand that socialists should support. Not, of course, just because we want high paid female lawyers and financial employees to be treated fairly (although we should), but because they are good for all of us in our fight to create policies that recognize the reality of intersectionality and our commitment to ending the many hierarchies of domination that are integral to neoliberal capitalism.

And here we could follow Iceland, where legislation has been introduced requiring employers to prove – not just claim, but actually document – that they are paying men and women equally.  This infringement on capital’s prerogative to discriminate was driven by Icelandic women who had a creative way to make their point: last October women in Reykjavik left their work at 2:38 PM, the point in the day that men were paid as much as women for the entire work day. They assembled in the main square, demanding action on pay equity.


* Single women’s labor force participation rate has been significant for a much longer period of time. In 1910 half of all single women worked outside the home while only 1 in 10 married women did. The 50% level for single women moved very little until the 1950s/1960s, however, but remained well above the rate for married women until the late 1970s.

Bill Barclay is on the Steering Committee of Chicago DSA, is a founding member of the Chicago Political Economy Group and serves as DSA National Member Organizer.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.


Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 77 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

July 06, 2017
· 17 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

July 09, 2017
· 2 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

Running for the National Political Committee

July 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join this call to hear a presentation and ask questions about the role, duties and time commitment of a member of DSA's National Political Committee. In the meantime, check out the information already on our website about the NPC.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 11 rsvps


Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.