Center for American Progress

RELEASE: On Equal Pay Day, CAP Outlines Next Steps for Progress on Equal Pay
Press Release

RELEASE: On Equal Pay Day, CAP Outlines Next Steps for Progress on Equal Pay

Washington, D.C. — Today, as equal pay advocates observe Equal Pay Day, the Center for American Progress released an issue brief outlining the next steps for progress on equal pay. The brief explains how strengthening equal pay protections and adopting new workplace policies to address work-life challenges can help ensure that all workers are paid fairly for their work.

“There are clear, workable policy solutions that we can and should pursue to make the promise of equal pay for equal work a reality for all workers,” said Jocelyn Frye, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the brief. “We cannot afford to shortchange workers because of outdated stereotypes about how work should be valued or who needs to earn more. We need comprehensive policies that address the real-world challenges facing today’s families in which both women and men are needed to help make ends meet.”

In the public discourse about equal pay, many point to the gender wage gap—the gap between full-time, year-round working women’s and men’s average earnings—as the most visible illustration of pay inequality. The gender wage gap currently stands at 21 percent, meaning that women, on average, earn only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. This gap is even larger for women of color: African American women earn 60 cents for every dollar earned by white men, while Native American women and Latinas earn only 59 cents and 55 cents, respectively.

However, as CAP’s brief outlines, making progress on pay disparities requires a clear understanding of the terms “equal pay for equal work” and the “gender wage gap.” The terms are not interchangeable, reflecting distinct concepts with distinct challenges.

Although equal pay and the wage gap are distinct, they are also inextricably linked—taking steps to achieve equal pay may help reduce the overall wage gap, and efforts to close the wage gap may help promote better pay practices that lead to equal pay. Importantly, there are measures that policymakers can pursue to establish fair pay practices, combat pay discrimination, and close the wage gap.

To combat pay discrimination, the Center for American Progress recommends policymakers prioritize the following:

  • Transparency in pay practices: Policymakers should adopt specific protections that prohibit pay secrecy rules and clearly state that workers can discuss their pay without fear of reprisal.
  • Accountability through disclosure: Measures to promote accountability in pay decision-making can help incentivize employers to be more vigilant and review their own pay practices, which would in turn advance fairer pay.
  • Business- or job-related reasons for pay decisions: Policymakers should enact provisions that would tighten existing law by requiring employers to have a business- or job-related reason for a pay disparity and limiting the use of prior salary when making an employment decision.
  • Protection against retaliation and adverse employment actions: Workers should not be penalized for discussing or inquiring about their pay.
  • Recognition of the barriers faced by diverse groups of workers: Any equal pay reform should include provisions to tackle pay disparities head on, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic standing, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other factors.
  • Equal treatment of workers who do equal work in different settings or jobs: The principle of equal pay for equal work should not mean that the jobs in question must have exactly the same name or take place in exactly the same location. Policymakers should focus on ensuring that similarly situated employees are treated equally by their employers.
  • Investment in robust enforcement efforts: Strengthening enforcement is critical to making the law’s promise of equality a reality for all workers.
  • Empowering workers: Policies should seek to empower workers so that they are better positioned to evaluate their options and make decisions for themselves.
  • Promoting state innovation and voluntary efforts: Everybody—from employers and policymakers to even employees themselves—can and should play a role in creating a level playing field for all and ensuring that workers are paid fairly.

While anti-discrimination measures are an important piece of the earnings puzzle, policymakers must go farther to address the litany of factors fueling the gender wage gap by raising the minimum wage, expanding work family policies such as paid leave, and improving women’s access to higher paying occupations.

In addition to the issue brief, the Center for American Progress also released a fact sheet and video breaking down the gender wage gap.

Read the issue brief: Next Steps for Progress on Equal Pay by Jocelyn Frye

Read the fact sheet: The Top 10 Facts About the Gender Wage Gap by Kaitlin Holmes and Danielle Corley

Watch the videoWhat’s Keeping Women’s Pay in the Mad Men Era? by Andrew Satter, Sarah Jane Glynn, and Kaitlin Holmes

Related resources:

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Chelsea Kiene at [email protected] or 202.478.5328.