April 1, 2019
Women Need Earning Equality Now: A Progressive Judiciary is One Key to Pay Parity
Senior Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice and Distinguished Visitor from Practice, Georgetown University Law Center
2019 is the year of the woman: Americans are now at least starting to listen to women when we say we have been harassed or assaulted; more women than ever are running for the highest office in the land, and there are more women in Congress than there have ever been. While we’ve come a long way, baby: We have a way to go. One fundamental truth that hits us in the pocketbook every day is that women still do not make what men make at work, even when we have equal education and experience.
Women today still earn on average roughly 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. American women must work an added four months on average to earn their male counterparts’ salary, a pay gap we recognize annually on Women’s Equal Pay Day, this year on April 2, 2019. The pay gap is worse for African-American and Latina women, with African-American women making roughly only 61 cents for every dollar made on average by white men and Latinas on average earning about 53 cents for every dollar made by white men.
Women in the legal profession are making some progress. Women outnumber men in law school. The wage gap persists for women lawyers in part because the super-high earners are mostly men – those at the very top of the pay scale (think partners in big law firms). And generally, women are not paid as much as men even when women get the same education and work the same hours as men. Requiring pay transparency is a good first step for equality. Efforts to diversify clerkships, which Justice Sonia Sotomayor endorsed at last year’s ACS convention, will also help propel women and people of color to the top of the legal profession.
The good news is that the gap between what women and men earn is shrinking. But here’s the bad news: It’s shrinking because most men’s wages have been flat. Not all men, of course. The richest 1 percent of Americans’ wages are skyrocketing. So, we should focus not only on the closing the pay gap but also on stemming rising inequality. Women should be paid what men are paid for doing the same work, and wages should rise for both men and women.
As I write about in my upcoming book “The Democracy Fix,” conservatives have been ruthless in gaining power on a local, state, and national level in elected government and in the judiciary. And they have used that power at the behest of business interests to make it harder for working women to get paid the wages they deserve. The long-term solution to earning pay parity, as for so many other issues, is for progressives to be as successful as the Right has been by winning elections and selecting judges who hold a progressive vision of the Constitution, which will uplift all workers.
Progressive elected officials can enact popular legislation like a higher minimum wage, paid sick days, and family leave, which have a disproportionate impact on women and will lead to fair wages for all. But it all begins with working to make sure we control the levers of power in statehouses, in Congress, and in the White House – and especially in the judiciary.
Women have come a long way since my grandmother came to this country as an immigrant scullery maid, but as I wrote in “Under the Bus,” women in the lowest-earning jobs in this country have been left out of much of that progress. The women who take care of our children and our elders, the maids, and the waitresses are not paid what they deserve.
On this Equal Pay Day, we need to work to change policies to reflect our values. People who work hard all day should be able to live on their earnings in a country with our resources. And women’s work should be valued, whether or not it is work that men do.