Source: Alter, Charlotte. “Here’s the History of the Battle for Equal Pay for American Women.” Time, 14 April 2015. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016. Read online
This article and our analysis of it will serve as an introduction to the topic of the Gender Wage Gap. When we say Gender Wage Gap, what we are referring to is the difference in money that women are paid for performing the same jobs as men. This Gender Wage Gap has been a problem since the beginning of women in the work force. In fact, this article delves deep into the history of the wage gap and how it has effected women through time.
Charlotte Alter, author of Here’s the History of the Battle for Equal Pay for American Women, writes for Time Magazine, as well as writing for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and previously at the Harvard Crimson. Alter has also consulted for the HBO production of “Girls”, a TV drama about young women living in New York City. Alter’s writings have focused largely on women’s rights issues and she has largely been involved in publishing articles on Trump’s recent scandal over sexual allegations. Her extensive background in women’s history and women’s rights issues helps her cultivate this historical background of the Gender Wage Gap.
Alter discusses the history of the wage cap by bringing up one of the first published accounts of wage inequality. “In February, 1869, a letter to the editor of the New York Times questioned why female government employees were not paid the same as male ones.” Truthfully during this time, women were making significantly less than their male counterparts. Though there were not many women publicly working pre-1900s, these women still operated under wage discrimination.
This inequality continued through the years. In WWI women were given “female appropriate” jobs that they were suited for, keeping the majority of women out of the male dominated jobs. “Women’s jobs” in general earned lower wages, but the jobs in which both men and women worked, the wage gap was stifling. It was during the War years that legislation took steps towards creating a law that would require equal pay. The National War Labor Board claimed, “If it shall become necessary to employ women on work ordinarily performed by men, they must be allowed equal pay for work.” So, in theory, these war time women were given the same opportunities as men.
In WWII, the fight continued for equal pay. The war industry called women to the factories and assembly lines. These women continued to clamor for equal pay. But their goals were largely unrealized. Despite their efforts, many women would be ignored and often did not receive equal pay. Alter writes, “After the war ended, the demand for equal pay seemed to lose some steam.”
Lewis Schwellenbach, Secretary of Labor during the Roosevelt administration, said “There is no sex difference in the food she buys or the rent she pays, there should be none in her pay envelope.” As Schwellenbach pushed for equal pay, veterans were coming home and needed a place to work. Women left the work force so that there could be a place for these men. And so Schwellenbach’s ideas were ignored and his bill never made it past the legislative branch.
At last, the national legislation would be passed in 1963. John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Law, giving women the right to equal pay. As Alter points out, this law was further backed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, giving race, origin, color, religion and sex all a free pass in the work place. Of course, claiming the principle proved easier than practicing actual equalization in pay. But at least women received the right to pursue equal wages as they continued to enter the work force in increasing numbers.
In modern America, we still see the existence of the wage gap. Various legislation has been passed in the last ten years that has improved the situation of women and their wages. But this is a continuing issue. Alter points out that “according to the Nation Equal Pay Task Force”, a woman only makes 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This issue requires our attention and will be the subject of my blog posts.
As we study this topic, we will explore ways in which women have been exploited in the past and how we can improve modern America. We will also take a deeper look into the history of the wage gap and how we are impacted today.