Back in June, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, there was a clear goal: Make it illegal to pay a woman less than a man for doing the same job, under the same conditions, with the same level of experience, requiring the same skill, effort, and responsibility. Despite its good intentions, the law still hasn’t solved the problem—even after 54 years.
Since then, the issue has become muddied in politics. Selecting April 4th as “Equal Pay Day” is meant to represent how many more weeks a woman must work to catch up to what her male counterpart earned in the previous year. Social and traditional media are full of inspirational stories and calls to action, but also stories that take issue with the arithmetic that led us to this day. And that controversy is exactly why the issue of gender pay equality remains an issue more than half a century later, and why today it’s critical for Americans to stop and think about the work that still needs to be done.
There may be no greater force over the course of history in the United States than the desire for equality, and the emotions that are stirred when Americans perceive inequality. April 4 was also the 49th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. — an appropriate date to remember the struggles that Americans faced in the fight for equal treatment.
So as we’re going about our lives — let’s stop and think about the women whose work makes our world possible. Think about the years of school and sacrifices it took to get where they are today, no matter what their profession. Think about the talents that make them so good at their jobs and the learned skills that took so long to perfect. Think about the challenges they’ve faced over their careers — competition for promotions, for credit, and to stand out in their industries. Think about the families they support at home, and think about the new sacrifices they must make each day when a work crisis hits and they lose time with their families. Think about the role models they looked up to, and the role models they have become for others.
Now ask yourself how much is all of that worth? Are those life and career issues restricted to just one gender? Are those sacrifices less valuable when they’re made by women? That’s what a day like Equal Pay Day can be – an opportunity to think about the value of work and those who perform it. The goals articulated back in 1963 seem obvious today, but the lack of perfect equality is obvious as well. Perhaps taking a day to reaffirm those goals today will bring us closer to achieving them tomorrow.