On #EqualPayDay, a soon-to-be college grad faces her future – and the wage gap

By Katie Gifford, JWI

On May 10th, I will be one of hundreds walking across a stage to receive my diploma declaring my graduation from American University. Excited as I am to leave a world of endless papers and exams to start a career in a field I love, I’m anxious.

Not only do I have to find a job, but once I find a job I need to think about whether I will be making as much as I deserve to make, and if I will be earning as much as my male classmates.

Throughout my time at AU, I’ve been bombarded by the statistics. In her lifetime, a woman earns just 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. According to the numbers, one year after graduation I might be earning just 82% of what my male friends will be.

Not enough change: in 2013, among full-time, year-round workers, women were paid 78 percent of what men were paid.

Image via AAUW.

But I’m actually pretty lucky — I’m young, white, not starting a family. Black women earn 68 cents compared to white men’s dollar. Hispanic women earn only 54 cents.

And the pay gap gets wider with age, usually increasing after 35. I’m not planning on becoming a mother anytime soon, but if I ever am, I can count on the “motherhood penalty” to keep that wage gap strong.

The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. Women could also benefit greatly from paid sick days and raising the minimum wage. Some legislators are bringing these issues up, but real action must be taken to enact laws that will help close the wage gap.

We’re told that the wage gap is our fault. We’re told that women, unlike men, don’t negotiate for a higher starting salary, which starts us from behind and doesn’t allow much ability to catch up. We’re told that women are more likely to go into lower-paying careers. That we lose company time when we take maternity leave or have to leave work to take care of sick family. We are told that our individual choices are entirely to blame for the wage gap. Some of these may be true on an individual level, but the fact remains that there is a huge, across-the-board wage gap between men and women.

Unfortunately, narrowing the wage gap isn’t as simple as telling women to negotiate for higher salaries. While this can help, women’s labor is simply undervalued, and the pay gap even exists in women-dominated fields.

On May 10th, I will be one of hundreds of bright, shining faces, looking forward to my future in the “real world.” I can only hope that on April 14, Equal Pay Day 2015, speaking up for #EqualPayNow will inspire action to eliminate the wage gap so that my female classmates and I don’t end up thousands of dollars behind our male counterparts, who might not have to think about if they’re getting paid what they deserve.

The pay gap is real, it is dangerous, and it is time to close it.

Katie Gifford, a senior at American University majoring in International Service and Women, Gender and Sexuality Issues, is a program intern with JWI.

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