Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Equal Pay: Fifty Years of Slow Progress

In the recent State of the Union Address on Tuesday, January 20, President Obama covered a wide range of topics, including the issue of equal pay.  Obama stated his feelings regarding this issue, as other presidents have done before him, and said “congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.  It’s 2015.  It’s time.”  President Kennedy held these beliefs as well, passing the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963, requiring that men and women receive equal pay for equal work.  Despite this, women still receive unequal pay, roughly 77 percent of what a man makes.  This inequality in America has suspiciously avoided much due reform in society, in part attributed to a lack of awareness and education on this subject as well as pay methods.

Half of the battle of unequal pay is awareness to its reality; many women find that they do not know about pay inequality.  Michelle Obama admits to making this mistake herself.  As stated in a Huffington Post article, Michelle Obama, “like many other women—didn’t think enough about her salary.”  This unawareness and lack of education regarding this problem ceases any drive for change: one cannot fix a problem if unaware of its relevance and existence.  However this unawareness cannot just be accredited to women; businesses often attach consequences to discussing pay with other workers.  According to an article on, “women in particular are too often on the receiving end of subtle or overt penalties for even mentioning their pay.”  Women are purposely kept in the dark regarding these discriminatory issues.

Often the inequality of pay boils down to pay based on seniority.  A loop hole around The Equal Pay Act and clear discrimination, employers award better pay to their workers based on the workers’ seniority of position rather than their value as a worker.  A debate on MSNBC’s Morning Joe summed up the issue “the single greatest impediment to equal pay for equal work is the seniority system, which pays not on merit, not on performance, but on time and grade.”  A pay system with these standards can easily give way to discrimination: men receiving higher positions and more frequent promotions and women being denied the positions and promotions needed for such seniority.

As seen throughout history, the passing of a law does not guarantee its relevance in society.  At the time the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women made 59 cents to the man’s dollar; currently, women make 77 cents per man’s dollar, as states.  However, this is not a single faceted woman problem–according to, Africa American women only make 64 cents per man’s dollar and Latina women 55 cents.  History has also taught that there are no handouts, and victories must be fought for and won.  A very slow progress has occurred, but the struggle for fair pay endures, and many continue to fight for the victory of equality.

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