Equal pay has been a topic of conversation since last Sunday’s Oscars when Patricia Arquette capped her Academy Award acceptance by calling for it.
The “Boyhood” actress, a single mom in the film and real life, drew wild applause with her unexpected shoutout on behalf of working women. The response, from half the audience at least, wasn’t surprising. Hollywood long has freely exploited women, and a series of hacked Sony emails last year showed that even big female stars and studio bosses are underpaid compared to men in show business.
But the buzz around Arquette’s remarks has lasted long past the Oscar show’s closing credits. On “Fox & Friends,” right-wing pundits spent Monday morning in damage-control, insisting women’s pay was equal enough. By Tuesday, Hillary Clinton drew wild applause at a conference for women in Silicon Valley.
And it’s spreading. When a woman World Wrestling Entertainment executive tweeted a pro-Arquette remark, the Twitter-sphere erupted with furious chatter suggesting she put her money where her mouth was and do something about the pay disparity between male and female WWE performers.
Many families could have predicted it, if anyone bothered to ask. Perhaps pay equity is gathering momentum because a quarter of American households are headed by single moms. Or maybe it’s because of the millions of two-income households finally emerging from a recession that taught them firsthand what the bank account looks like when Dad is laid off and the family must survive on Mom’s paycheck.
Things have improved since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed the federal Equal Pay Act. Then women earned about 59 cents to every dollar earned by a man. Today, that figure is 78 cents nationally, and 84 cents in California.
The remaining gap can only partly be chalked up to women’s greater tendency to go into low-paying careers or work only part-time to raise children. Wage studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics routinely find that, from lawyers to teachers to janitors to the clergy, men consistently earn more than women doing the same jobs.
The median weekly pay for male nurses last year was $114 higher than for female nurses. Among food service managers, it was $211 more for men than women.
This situation is not fair, yet year after year Congress rejects efforts to fix it.
Last week, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara proposed legislation to strengthen California’s equal pay laws. She wants to make it harder to pay men and women different salaries for comparable work, and easier for workers to compare notes on who’s getting paid what. She can expect a lot of opposition.
Women are shorted more than $33.6 billion annually because of the wage gap, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. Giving half the population what the other half gets would warrant a round of applause.