In celebration of Equal Pay Day, which is today — the day that marks when women finally catch up to what men made, on average, in the previous calendar year, we begin the first column in a series dedicated to particular hot button issues in the lives of women.

Most women in the workforce currently earn an average of 77 cents nationwide for every dollar that men make at the same jobs — a difference of $750,000 to $2 million over a lifetime. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was a great step in the right direction, but there's still a lot of work to do. Here are some folks who are working to make equal pay a reality:

Filmmaker (and friend of SFist) Kate Bryant uses the above video to sum up the current state of the pay equality movement while offering concrete statistics and solutions. A good start would be to enact The Paycheck Fairness Act, which is currently in Congress. It would allow employees to discuss their salaries with each other without fear of retaliation, while also enforcing stiff new penalties for employers who break the law and putting safeguards into place that would to protect victimized employees.

The next step would be the enacting Salary Disclosure to Promote Equality Act, which would, among other things, allow job applicants to forgo providing a salary history to employers. Since, as Bryant reports, only 7% of women negotiate their salaries at their first jobs, compared to 53% of men, this decision sticks with them throughout their career due to current salary history laws. Sign the petition for this proposed law if interested. Giving women access to higher education is also key to closing the wage gap. Visit The Pay Gap for more info on Bryant's forthcoming film.

Check out some wage gap statistics from 2010 organized by state from the Equal Pay Fact Sheet 2012, which is published by the National Women's Law Center. When comparing the various -Ist states, we see that

  • Women in Washington, D.C., earned the highest at 91 cents to every male dollar, compared to the nationwide wage gap of 77 cents;

  • New York came in second with 89 cents;

  • California women made 84 cents;

  • Texas women earned 80 cents; and,

  • Sadly, Illinois women had it even worse than the national average at 76 cents.

Of course, when looking at the numbers by ethnicity, the wage gap is even more substantial for African-American and Hispanic women. As UltraViolet reports, African American women only make $0.62 on the dollar, and Latinas only make $0.54. The wage disparity also spans all professions. Male teachers and hairdressers also earn more than women, as do lawyers and doctors.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who is cosponsoring The Paycheck Fairness Act, shares some illuminating facts provided by National Partnership for Women and Families. If the wage gap were eliminated, working women in California would have enough money for:

  • 62 more weeks of food;

  • Four more months of mortgage and utility payments;

  • Seven more months of rent;

  • 25 more months of family health insurance premiums; or

  • 1,914 additional gallons of gas.

For a personal account of life-long pay inequality, see the above video which tells the story of Lilly Ledbetter, who for 17 years worked as a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant. When she was about to retire, Ledbetter discovered that she had been making grossly less than the three male managers she worked with, including $600 per month less than the lowest level male manager who had less schooling, training, and experience than she did. This discrepancy amounted to more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits, over the course of her career.

After losing the case in the Supreme Court, Ledbetter worked with President Obama to create the the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was the president's first piece of legislation. The law, which states that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck — the old law only allowed for an 180-day statute from the very first unequal paycheck.