Information for Economic Opportunity: Ensuring Equal Pay through Transparency

Today is Equal Pay Day, the date representing how far into the new year the average woman would have to work in order to earn the same as the average man did in the previous year. In recognition, President Obama took executive actions and the Senate began work on a bill, all aimed at closing the pay gap and ensuring women earn equal pay for equal work. Each of these efforts is based on the same premise: that better access to information can expand economic opportunity.

Earlier today, President Obama signed an executive order protecting the right of federal contractor employees to discuss what they earn. A key provision in the Senate bill – the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) – would extend those protections to employees throughout the economy.

These reforms arise from the recognition that workers may not know that they earn less than their peers. This is because many employers don't publish salaries with their job descriptions. Moreover, 51 percent of women in the workforce say that their employers prohibit or discourage them from talking about their wages, according to a study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. The transparency of pay under union contracts is likely one of the reasons why the pay gap is smaller for women who belong to a union than it is for women in a non-union workplace.

This illustrates why transparency is so core to our work at the Center for Effective Government: you have to know about a problem in order to fix it. The law provides remedies for workers who are treated unfairly – but an employee can only seek enforcement under the law if she knows it's been broken. President Obama's executive order and the Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the public's rights in the workplace. At a time of rising corporate profits but stagnant wage growth, workers would have a new tool to make their case for a raise.

Whether it's pay discrimination, dangerous chemicals, or fraud against public programs, transparency empowers people to demand accountability. Access to information helps people advocate for the things we all want: good jobs and fair workplaces, safe communities, and honest and effective government.

Image by Alfred T. Palmer, in the public domain.

back to Blog