No progress was made to close the gender wage gap in the United States last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported Wednesday that women continue to earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in an equal position.
That stagnant growth in pay equity is especially poignant this election cycle, as the campaigns for President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, duke it out to appeal to the demographic that some say may sway the 2012 presidential election: women.
"We're not making any real progress -- the gender wage gap essentially has not budged for a decade. And the problem is worse for African-American women and Latinas," Linda D. Hallman, the executive director of American Association of University Women, said in a statement. "We hope that this news serves as a wake-up call. If we keep going at this pace, women will never earn the same amount that men earn for full-time, year-round work."
The median income for women working with full-time jobs was $37,118 in 2011, compared to the median of $48,202 for men. Although the median income took a slight dip for both sexes last year -- in 2010, women earned $38,052 and men earned $48,202 -- the poverty rate for women is still considerably higher, particularly among the elderly.
For instance, while the poverty rate is almost equal for individuals under 18, that gap inches up once they enter the working world. But the Census Bureau reports 15.5 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 were living in poverty in 2011 (for an individual, defined as living off less than $11,170 a year), compared to 11.8 percent of men. Meanwhile, 10.7 percent of women over 65 were living in poverty last year, compared to 6.2 percent of men in the same age group.
That pay gap translates into a significant economic disadvantage for women and their families, particularly because women and female-headed households are already less likely to have health insurance. In 2010, 20 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 did not have health coverage, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation, most of whom did not qualify for Medicaid and did not have access to employer-sponsored plans.
Plus, because nearly half of women with young children are their family's primary breadwinner, that means female-headed households are also less likely to provide health coverage to their children.
Despite the heightened attention that pay equity has received over the past few years -- particularly after Obama passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act shortly after taking office in 2009 -- the wage gap has hovered at 77 percent on the dollar since 2005.
While the federal government has had laws intending to combat wage disparity based on gender since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the pay gap has closed at the rate of less than half-a-penny per year. In the year of the landmark law's passage, a woman took in an average 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
As a result of pay inequities, the Center for American Progress estimates the average female worker loses about $434,000 in salary or wages compared with men over a 40-year period.
Moreover, a 2011 analysis from the Chairman's Staff of the Joint Economic Committee concluded there is a gender pay gap in every state among full-time workers. There is not one state where women, on average, earn more than men in comparable positions.
Still, while it is clearly common knowledge that women are -- and have been -- earning less than men, in June Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required employers to demonstrate that any salary differences between men and women doing the same work are not gender-related. It also would have prohibited employers from taking legal action against employees for sharing salary information with co-workers, something that is permissible under current law.