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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on Equal Pay Day – March 15, 2022

Today is Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned the year before. Women who work full time in the United States make just 83 cents for every dollar paid to men. The pay gap is even wider for women of color, mothers of young children, and women with disabilities. Due to pay inequality, women stand to lose approximately $407,760 over the course of a 40-year career. In the words of equal pay activist Lilly Ledbetter, “those pennies add up to real money.”

It’s been almost 60 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963, which requires that men and women in the same workplace receive equal pay for equal work, and since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) outlawed discrimination in pay and promotions based on race, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), color, national origin, and religion. Our nation has seen progress in narrowing the pay gap, most notably among younger women (ages 25 to 34) who on average earn 93 cents for every dollar paid to a man in the same age group. However, as a whole, women are still overrepresented in lower-paying positions within our country’s workforce, and significant and unjustified pay disparities persist.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened existing inequalities and has only made the problem of unequal pay more urgent. The pandemic’s adverse economic effects have exposed both the importance and vulnerability of many U.S. workers. These effects had a disproportionate impact on women and people of color who tend to be concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs, and who are more likely to shoulder unpaid family caregiving responsibilities.

From February to April 2020, women lost 11.9 million jobs, and 4.4 million women left the labor force completely – many due to caregiving responsibilities. Among women who remained employed during the pandemic, mothers of young children worked fewer hours – an estimated 3.5 hours fewer a week between February and April 2020 – than fathers who scaled back work hours by about 2.5 hours. Also, employed mothers spent 6.1 hours on average working and devoted 8 hours to primary childcare during weekdays in comparison to employed fathers who spent an average of 7.7 hours working and 5.2 hours on childcare. Factors such as reduced work hours or irregular employment tend to negatively affect long-term earning potential. Thus, women’s greater involvement in caregiving could lead to significant setbacks in career advancement, lifetime earnings, and financial independence.

At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), combating and remedying pay discrimination is a top national priority. In the past five years alone, through our administrative process, we have recovered $65.3 million for individuals filing EPA charges and $159 million for individuals filing Title VII pay discrimination. The EEOC recovered an additional $4.6 million for sex-based wage claims and $12.2 million for Title VII wage claims on any basis in litigation during the same time period. For more information about wage discrimination charges received by the EEOC, see our Data Highlight.

In fiscal year 2021, the EEOC advanced pay equity by

  • Resolving significant compensation discrimination cases during the administrative process, including:
  • Resolving a systemic investigation alleging African Americans were discriminated against in wages based on race for over $200,000, which included monetary relief for the charging party and a class, and targeted equitable relief designed to change the discriminatory wage practices and prevent future discrimination;
  • Successfully resolving 10 pay discrimination lawsuits for approximately $1 million, benefiting 51 individuals (view more cases on our website);
  • Filing five lawsuits involving compensation discrimination, four of which were based on sex and one based on race; and
  • Conducting 124 outreach sessions with 24,248 individuals involving issues related to equal pay.

As the legendary American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once observed, “making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’” When women are paid less than their male counterparts for equal work, they are more likely to struggle to financially sustain themselves and their households. At the same time, they are less likely to have the opportunities they deserve to make a life for themselves, such as investing in their economic security, enhancing their personal growth and development, and enjoying quality time with their families.

The EEOC is committed to protecting the civil rights of women, workers of color, and other underserved employees so that, as our nation recovers from the pandemic, workers can acquire good jobs that best fit their interests and skills. Our agency will continue to use every tool in our toolbox – including outreach and education, enforcement, and litigation – to promote pay equity and to close gender and racial pay gaps.

Charlotte A. Burrows