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Equal Pay Day Highlights Gender Compensation Gap

FILE - People carry bags reading 'equal pay day' in Bern, Switzerland, March 7, 2015.
FILE - People carry bags reading 'equal pay day' in Bern, Switzerland, March 7, 2015.

Days after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the latest version of a bill focused on ensuring protections against pay discrimination on the basis of a person's sex, Tuesday marks the symbolic Equal Pay Day highlighting the pay gap that exists between working men and women.

The date is meant to show the disparity by pointing out that if a man and a woman each start working on January 1, what the man is paid by the end of December will not be paid to the woman until the beginning of April the following year.

According to the latest data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income for women working full-time is about 80 percent of that earned by men.

Among specific industries, women suffer from the largest pay gaps in securities and financial sales, financial management, credit counseling and retail sales.

In securities and financial sales, the median income for men was $101,423 while for women it was $61,936, according to the data released last year.

Pay is most equal among food preparation workers, writers and authors, pharmacists, counselors and social workers. Those working as retail or wholesale buyers earn more than their male counterparts.

A 1963 federal law prohibits wage-based discrimination for men and women who work jobs requiring "equal skill, effort, and responsibility." While the gender pay gap has narrowed since the law went into effect, discriminatory practices in compensation endure.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House by a 242-187 margin last week, seeks to build on the old law and address the remaining pay gap.

"These pay disparities exist in both the private and governmental sectors. Pay disparities are especially severe for women and girls of color," the bill's authors wrote. "In many instances, the pay disparities can only be due to continued intentional discrimination or the lingering effects of past discrimination. After controlling for educational attainment, occupation, industry, union status, race, ethnicity, and labor force experience roughly 40 percent of the pay gap remains unexplained."

The legislation would ban the practice of companies prohibiting discussion of wages in the workplace, while making it easier for employees to challenge pay discrimination and provide those who are discriminated against stronger remedies.

Similar bills in recent years have failed to gain enough support to pass, particularly among Republicans. Critics say the measures would invite too many lawsuits and discourage companies from hiring women.

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