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Nation commemorates 'Equal Pay Day,' a reminder of wage gap

Maryland residents may have heard that national "Equal Pay Day" was celebrated earlier this week. Equal Pay Day commemorates how much longer the average American woman must work in order to earn the same amount of money that the average American man earned the year before. So, in order for the average American woman to catch up to an average American man's 2013 earnings, she would need to include her earnings until April 8, 2014. This estimation comes from the White House, which reports that women who work full-time are paid about 77 percent of the wages paid to their male counterparts. 

Estimates about the gender wage gap do vary. For example, The Pew Research Center claims that women earn 84 cents on the dollar compared to men. The Pew Research Center also finds that for younger women the gap in pay is even smaller. Younger women earn about 93 percent of what their male counterparts earn, the center reports. In any case, researchers do seem to be in agreement that a significant wage gap does exist between male and female workers in the U.S. Why is this? 

One reason that women often earn less than their male co-workers is that they are more likely to take hiatuses from employment. About 40 percent of mothers take time off or decrease the hours they work to care for children or a family member. More than one-quarter of women leave the workforce to become caretakers. Career interruptions can greatly affect a person's earning power and career growth.

While women sometimes voluntarily leave the workforce to prioritize their families, in many cases a woman's pay or career growth is stunted due to no choice of her own. Some employers pay women less due to sex or pregnancy discrimination. Some employers refuse to hire women into higher-level and higher paying positions because of various stereotypes about women and mothers. These illegal forms of discrimination affect individual workers, their families, and the overall wage gap.

Women who are being discriminated against in the workplace may benefit from legal counsel. Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a worker on the basis of sex. This means that employers may not choose to pay a female worker less than a male worker, or to treat her worse, just because she is female. 

Source: Pew Research Center, "On Equal Pay Day, key facts about the gender pay gap," Eileen Patten, April 8, 2014

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