Office for the Aging


Women's Equality Day is August 26

Many older New Yorkers have seen massive changes in equal rights over their lifetimes. This article focuses on women's rights and current workforce conditions in recognition of Women's Equality Day, August 26.

Women's Right to Vote
August 26th is the anniversary of national woman suffrage. Across the seventy-two years between the first major women's rights conference at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, thousands of people participated in marches through cities like New York and Washington D.C., wrote editorials and pamphlets, gave speeches all over the nation, lobbied political organizations, and held demonstrations with the goal of achieving voting rights for women, and these actions continued over the generations to bring attention to issues of equality for women.

Women's Equality Day
In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced a bill designating August 26th of each year as Women's Equality Day, and the bill passed. Part of the bill reads that Women's Equality Day is a symbol of women's continued fight for equal rights, and that the United States commends and supports them. It decreed that the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of woman suffrage and the 1970 Strike for Equality.

Women and Work-Why so Important?
Until the early 1960s, newspapers published separate job listings for men and women. Jobs were categorized according to sex, with the higher level jobs listed almost exclusively under "Help Wanted-Male." In some cases, the ads ran identical jobs under male and female listings - but with separate pay scales. Separate, of course, meant unequal: between 1950 and 1960, women with full-time jobs earned, on average, between 59 to 64 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned in the same job. It wasn't until the passage of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963 (effective June 11, 1964) that it became illegal to pay women lower rates for the same job strictly on the basis of their sex. Demonstrable differences in seniority, merit, the quality or quantity of work, or other considerations might merit different pay, but gender could no longer be viewed as a drawback on one's resume.

The workplace has changed radically in the decades since the passage of the Equal Pay Act. What has not changed radically, however, is women's pay equity. The wage gap has narrowed, but it is still significant. Women earned 59 percent of the wages men earned in 1963; in 2012, they earned 80.9 percent of men's wages -an improvement of about half a penny per dollar earned every year. And, in their first year out of college, millennial women are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers, according to a new report from the American Association of University Women.

Why is there still such a disparity? A variety of explanations for the persistent wage gap have been offered. One is that older women are factored into the wage gap equation, and many of the women from an older generation work in jobs still subject to the attitudes and conditions of the past. In contrast, the rates for young women coming of age in the 1990s and after reflect women's social and legal advances. In 2010, for example, women under age 25 working full-time earned 93.8 percent of men's salaries, compared to those aged 55 to 64, who earned 75.2 percent of what men made.

Equal Pay in the Millennium?
Yet even the narrowing wage gap of 93.8 percent that applies to women under 25 looks less rosy when analyzed more closely. As one commentator describes, "Young men and women have always had earnings more comparable than those of their elders; starting salaries are generally low, and do not accurately reflect the advantages that accrue, or fail to accrue, over time as men advance and women stay in place, or as women in mostly female kinds of jobs reach the end of characteristically short career paths."

Older Women in the Work Force
As employers adjust to the increasing numbers of older workers in the workforce, they are working to make the workplace more inclusive, with equal treatment and opportunities for all aged workers. An important step in this process is the examination of all factors that are affecting older workers as they seek a place in the changing workplace. Recent studies have shown that older women workers face a particular disadvantage; older women workers face higher percentages of underemployment and "tend to live in households with lower family incomes than their male counterparts." Older women workers are affected by a number of conditions that ultimately place large numbers of them at high risk for underemployment and poverty. For example, "for workers aged 60-64, 16.9 percent of women report underemployment, compared to 12.1 percent of men." For those employers trying to make their businesses more open to workers of all ages, and diverse in other ways, this information shows that there are large groups still excluded and undervalued in the workplace.

New York: Women's Equality Act Legislation
On June 4, 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, joined by members of the Women's Equality Coalition, introduced legislation designed to end discrimination and inequality based on gender and to restore New York as a leader in women's rights. If enacted by the Legislature, the Women's Equality Act would achieve pay equity, stop sexual harassment, prevent pregnancy discrimination in all workplaces, strengthen human trafficking laws and protections for domestic violence victims, end family status discrimination and protect a woman's freedom of choice. On Thursday, June 20, the NYS Assembly passed the 10 Point Women's Equality Act omnibus bill. On Friday, the last day of session, the Senate passed 9 of the 10 points unanimously; the abortion plank was not taken up, and therefore, there was no vote on the omnibus bill.

New York: Women's Equality Exhibit
On March 4, 2013, Governor Cuomo announced the opening(External Link) of the 2013 Women's Equality exhibit. The exhibit highlights the struggle for economic equality that women have faced since the 1820s to the 1980s. The display, located in the War Room, is part of an ongoing initiative to create museum-quality exhibits for public viewing at the State Capitol. "New York's women have always been trailblazers in the pursuit of equality and justice in our nation," said Governor Cuomo. "The exhibit outlines the challenges women workers have faced since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, through the Civil War, to the Depression and World War II, and ending in the 20th century. Events from each period, like the first garment workers strike in New York City, the licensing of the nation's first female doctor and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, will give visitors a context for the evolution of the struggle for workplace equality."