Sisterhood Blog

Where's the Jewish Outrage When It Comes to Pay Equity?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Last week was Equal Pay Day, marking how long into the year a woman in this country must work to have earned the same as a man.

Is that really still true? We women earn only 78 cents for every dollar that men earn for the same work? I was shocked by the facts when I saw this press release from the National Council of Jewish Women.

And I wonder: Where is the outrage? Where are the Jewish women (besides those at NCJW) agitating for change?

It is no new thing to observe that young women in this country are complacent about gender discrimination, as if their mothers and grandmothers had done all the hard work of righting earlier wrongs and now they have nothing to be concerned about.

Two summers ago I taught writing to 16 and 17 year olds at a Jewish leadership-oriented summer camp. Most of my students were female and one day, when we were talking about journalism as a career, I said they might face professional challenges their male peers do not, and cited a couple of examples. The response from this usually dynamic group? Blank stares all around.

But perhaps it’s not just young women. We are all too complacent.

We face so much less gender discrimination than did our mothers. In the early years of my life, in some states women were not permitted to open bank accounts without a husband’s signature.

So much has changed. But still there are issues, often subtle. At one job I had at a company with all-male management, I had to fight hard over a period of months for a raise and I wondered if my male colleagues — who were probably seen, I thought, more as their household “breadwinners” by our bosses — faced the same battle. There’s that added layer of female-ness, too, of wondering how we’re “seen” as women: Are we considered by our managers to be confidently assertive or “too pushy?”

The very first act President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which makes the 180-day window for filing a pay discrimination lawsuit re-set with each discriminatory paycheck, rather than begin at the time the pay was agreed upon. It is a much-needed repair to a bad law. A photograph of Ledbetter with President Obama is above.

But there is so much more work to do — for example, around the lack of paid parental leave in Jewish organizations as in many others.

Why are we Jewish women not making noise around them, agitating for change? Why are we so complacent?

Arieh Lebowitz Tue. May 5, 2009

RAC: Back “pay equity” bills | Capital J | JTA - Jewish & Israel News Jan 6, 2009 ... The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is urging Congress to back two "pay equity" bills… SOURCE:

JCPA Insider, dated April 16, 2009: Equal Pay Day. Every week, pay day comes one and a half days late for millions of American women. Women have to work halfway through Tuesday each week in order to catch up with men’s wages from the previous week. In other words, women work 6.5 days for every 5 days that men work to earn the same income. Hadassah is once again joining the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) to encourage national observance of Equal Pay Day, to raise awareness about the wage gap between men and women in America. Nationally, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts - but in many states, the average is even lower. Over a working lifetime, this disparity costs the average American woman an estimated $523,000 in lost wages. This year, Equal Pay Day will be observed on Tuesday, April 20th. Equal Pay Day is observed in April because women work about halfway through the following April - more than one quarter of the year - in order to earn as much as men earned in the previous year. Hadassah urges women nationwide to plan or participate in a local Equal Pay Day event. There are many ways to observe “Equal Pay Day 2004.” SOURCE:

Email from teh JCPA, dated APril 30, 2009:

Ending Gender-Based Wage Disparities

This past Tuesday, April 28, was Equal Pay Day, which marks the point in 2009 when the average woman's wages will finally catch up with those paid to the average man in 2008. This week is a poignant time to reflect on the wage gap between men and women, its poverty implications, and what we can do to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work.

In every state in the country, women still earn less than men for equivalent work. In 2007, women working full-time, year-round earned an average of only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. Some try to attribute this disparity to women's career choices in lower-paying jobs or the balance many women strike between work and family. However, many recent, authoritative studies (including a 2003 study by the US Government Accountability Office) demonstrate that even when all relevant career and family characteristics are controlled for, there is still a significant gap in earnings based on gender, with women earning about 80% of what their male counterparts earn.

This wage gap does not only have civil rights implications; it also has poverty implications. Approximately one in eight women currently live below the federal poverty line, and in 2007, women were 42% more likely to live in poverty than men (The National Women's Law Center). However, if there were no wage gap, women's family income would rise by about $4,000/year, cutting women's poverty rates in half!

In fact, a study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research demonstrates that a typical woman in her mid-40s who graduated from college in 1984 had already lost over $440,000 in her working years due to the wage gap. This disparity affects women's retirement, pensions and savings, with unmarried women receiving an average of $8,000/year less than their male counterparts in retirement income (National Women's Law Center).

The first major bill that President Obama signed upon taking office was "The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act," which re-established women's rights to challenge pay discrimination in court by clarifying the current statute. However, the accompanying bill, "The Paycheck Fairness Act" (S. 182) has still not passed the Senate. This bill, which passed the House in January of 2009, would:

close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act;

prevent retaliation against workers who reveal their wages;

allow victims of gender-based pay discrimination to access the same remedies that are available for victims of discrimination based on race and national origin;

improve collection of wage information by the Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to facilitate evaluation of pay disparities;

make it easier for plaintiffs to file class actions in Equal Pay Act claims; and

provide for development of salary and negotiation skills training.

Although the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was a big step forward in addressing the wage gap, there is much more work to be done both in terms of strengthening our equal pay laws, and in acting proactively to prevent wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would represent another giant step forward in ending the wage gap between men and women, and pulling millions of women out of poverty.

Action! Call your Senators and urge them to co-sponsor and bring to the floor the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182).

If you have any questions, or would like additional information, please contact Melissa Boteach at

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