National Equal Pay Day prompts women to seek higher wages

By Kaley Fowler

While issues of gender equality may seem like a thing of the past, a group of women’s rights activists asserted otherwise at a nationwide rally, calling for equal pay for men

and women.

The Chicago Commission on Human Relations sponsored the April 17 rally outside Daley Plaza at the corner of Washington and Dearborn streets in conjunction with 26 organizations in observance of National Equal Pay Day, which highlighted the wage gap between men and women.

According to a report released by Women Are Getting Even, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination against women in the workplace, Caucasian women on average earn 77 percent of what men make, adding up to a lifetime wage disparity of $700,000 for high school graduates and $1.2 million for college graduates. For minority women, that gap is even larger, with the combined earnings of Asian-American, African American and Hispanic women averaging 72.5 percent of men’s wages.

“Women represent nearly half of the American work force and 51 percent of the population of Chicago and are equally, if not totally responsible for the viability of their families,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a written statement. “Chicago is proud to stand with hundreds of cities and thousands of people all over the United States to recognize that pay inequality impacts everyone.”

According to April Williams-Luster, liaison for the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues, Gov. Pat Quinn, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have issued a proclamation calling all employers under their jurisdiction to provide “equal pay for equal work.”

Other rally attendees were Preckwinkle and Dorothy Brown, clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

“It is hard to believe that we’re still talking about equal pay for women in 2012,” Brown said. “If a man gets a dollar, so should a woman.”

She encouraged women in the audience to call on their legislators in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act legislation that is currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.

The act, an expansion on the Equal Pay Act of 1963, intended to abolish wage disparity based on gender was approved by the House of Representatives in January 2009 but did not pass in the Senate.

The bill was reintroduced in April 2011 and awaits a decision from both houses before it is passed.

According to Brown, when President John F. Kennedy passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women earned an average of 59 cents on the dollar compared to men. She said while the gap has been narrowed, earning 77 cents on the dollar is still unacceptable.

“We are reminded that [equal pay] isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s a family issue,” Preckwinkle said. “We have a part to play if we want to make real change.”