Nearly 100 years after gaining the right to vote and around 73 years after entering the workforce en masse during World War II, women are still fighting for equal pay for equal work.

According to recent studies by the American Association of University Women, the wage gap in Colorado is 82 percent. That is, women make 82 cents for every dollar a male earns. Women of color face an even wider wage gap than white women or men — 63 cents for black women and 54 cents for Latinas. Mothers also make less. According to figures from the National Partnership for Women and Families, American moms make 71 cents on the dollar compared to dads.

We’ve come a long way — we just haven’t come far enough, fast enough.

It’s not just about doing what’s right and what’s fair; it’s sound economic policy. The pay gap halts economic development and costs taxpayers money through safety net programs like the Women, Infants and Children food program, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or school nutrition programs.

If women in the United States were paid wages equal to that of men, it would cut the poverty rate in half and the national economy would have added $512.6 billion in wage and salary income.

In Colorado, the poverty rate would drop from 5.6 percent to 2.8 percent. For working single moms in the state, the poverty rate would drop from 22 percent to 12.3 percent. The state’s economy would see an additional $9 billion. That’s $9 billion more in disposable income.   

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It’s a big deal.

The gender wage gap is a real issue that the nation’s businesses should face and then solve. Businesses need to realize the benefits of hiring a diverse workforce — not just women, but also people of color. New faces bring new perspectives, fresh ideas and innovation. Paying them equally means acknowledging their hard work and their contributions to the business.

But that could be a long time coming. Estimates are that at the current glacial pace of progress, the wage gap won’t close until 2059. Our great-great- granddaughters will benefit. Until then, women working full time will lose out on $900 billion in economic benefit. And that means we all lose out.

We lose out on additional education, on feeding our families healthy food, on child care, and mortgage and utility payments. And if women can’t afford to work, we lose out on the contributions and perspectives they bring with them.

It will cost businesses more money in the short term, but there are wider economic benefits in the long term. If taxpayers pay less for safety net programs, because fewer families need them, the deficit narrows and economic security is more assured.

It’s solid business practice — and companies shouldn’t wait for government to insist they pay workers equally. It’s time to acknowledge women’s contributions in the workplace, keep families out of poverty and improve the local and state economies by closing the wage gap.

And let’s do it before 2059. 

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