It was almost exactly 50 years ago that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted into federal law. The legislation was enacted with the aim of eliminating the large wage gap that existed between male and female earners. On its half-century anniversary the effect that the legislation has had on closing that gap has received a bit of criticism.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released on Tuesday, Jan. 22 the latest wage data available, and it shows that the large gap has been reduced but not yet eliminated. In fact, the data shows that women make on average only 82.2 cents per dollar that men earn. Measured in cents that may not seem like a big difference, but that means that for a man’s $100,000 annual salary a woman will earn an $82,200 salary — or $17,800 less per year. Ask again and anyone may find those numbers important.

While this is still a large wage gap, some labor economists are not so quick to judge the law as not quite living up to its full potential. Specifically, some economists say that the wage gap is not quite the result of direct pay differences in the same position, but instead a result of the jobs that women are accepting. For instance, labor jobs that require physical strength often pay more and are accepted by men. According to these same economists, the wage gap is not quite as large where there is a concentration of white collar office workers.

Let us not forget that the wage gap stood as a much large chasm in 1963 when women were making on average only 58.9 cents per dollar that men made. That gap has significantly decreased and more women seem to be getting a job when they want one. As of 2009, unemployment for women was high at 8.7 percent, but it was lower than the male unemployment rate which measured in at 11.2 percent.

If a woman accepts a job that pays less but pays men and women workers equally, that is one thing. However, discrimination that is based on gender — whether in terms of wages, hours, hiring practices, firing practices, working conditions or any other factor — is not okay and it may be a violation of labor laws.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “50 years later, women still are paid less,” Ann Belser, Jan. 23, 2013

If you have been discriminated against by an employer denying jobs, equal pay, benefits or other things based on gender, our attorneys in Kansas City are there to help and our website provides more information.