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Today is Equal Pay Day and in Florida, many women are fed up with the wage gap

The Business and Professional Women St. Petersburg-Pinellas chapter on Tuesday will host its 14th annual Unhappy Hour at the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse at the Sundial plaza in downtown St. Petersburg. The event, which begins at 5:30 p.m., is open to anyone who wants to discuss the pay gap and how to fix it. [Photo courtesy of Business and Professional Women St. Petersburg-Pinellas chapter]
The Business and Professional Women St. Petersburg-Pinellas chapter on Tuesday will host its 14th annual Unhappy Hour at the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse at the Sundial plaza in downtown St. Petersburg. The event, which begins at 5:30 p.m., is open to anyone who wants to discuss the pay gap and how to fix it. [Photo courtesy of Business and Professional Women St. Petersburg-Pinellas chapter]
Published Apr. 4, 2017

Today is Equal Pay Day and women in Florida are fed up.

It has been 54 years since the Equal Pay Act became law in the United States, which states that men and women should receive equal wages for equal work. But in 2017, that's still far from reality. On average, women make 79 cents for every dollar a man earns in the United States, according to the American Association of University Women. In Florida, the gender pay gap starts at 85 cents. It widens for women of color, research shows.

What these well-cited statistics do not show is how often women are left behind when it comes to benefits, too. Women are more likely to earn less in Social Security benefits, pensions and other retirement sources than men because they are paid less.

"I don't think people really understand the effects of what a lifetime of shortage of pay really does," said Kristin Smith, a financial adviser at Raymond James in Tampa and secretary of the Business and Professional Women St. Petersburg-Pinellas chapter. "While the majority of my clients are working women these days, they still often earn less than their husbands, even when the wife is a banking executive and their husband has been in and out of work."

This evening, the Business and Professional Women St. Petersburg-Pinellas chapter will host its 14th annual Unhappy Hour at the Ruth's Chris Steak House at the Sundial plaza in downtown St. Petersburg. The event, which begins at 5:30 p.m., is open to anyone (male, female, whoever) who wants to discuss the pay gap and how to fix it.

National Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the next year women must work in order to earn what men earned in the previous year.

"Discussing it is of prime importance," said Smith, who said last year about 100 women turned out for the event, including students from University of South Florida's women empowerment club. "Our group's mission is to education and empower women in their professional careers. This is an issue in neutral territory that anyone can get behind, no matter how they fall on other politically charged issues."

The event began socially with a few members of the local chapter getting together on Equal Pay Day for a glass of wine in downtown St. Petersburg. It has since grown over the past 14 years into a much larger group.

"I don't think I've seen the needle move on the pay gap barely at all in the 14 years we've put on this event," Smith said. "The first year, I think it was 76 cents and now we're at 79? Clearly there's still a problem."

While the state's pay gap between the sexes is smaller than in other states, Florida women are poorer and have less access to health care than most states, according to a recent study commissioned by the Florida Women's Funding Alliance, a group affiliated with the Florida Philanthropic Network.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, found that 15.4 percent of women over 18 live in poverty in Florida, which is in the bottom third of the country. As of 2014, the state ranked 50th in the nation for the number of women who are considered "non-elderly" who had health insurance coverage with 78.3 percent. The national average is 85.4 percent.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.