Today is Equal Pay Day, the point on the calendar that symbolizes how far into this year women have to work to earn what men earned just last year.

It's not a day to celebrate.

South Carolina fares — surprise — slightly worse than the U.S. average when it comes to women's pay.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, South Carolina women who work full time earn 76 cents for every dollar earned by men. The national average is 77 cents. That's a yearly gap of $10,134 between men and women.

Something's not right there. And the Paycheck Fairness Act could help fix it.

Basic necessities

Using figures gathered at the end of March, the National Partnership for Women and Families says that ten-thousand-dollar difference translates to being able to buy 2,958 more gallons of gas a year.

Or it could mean being able to afford a car.

African-American women in South Carolina fare even worse, earning 64 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Census data show that we also have more women-only households and more households consisting of women and children than the national average. Factor in that 38.5 percent of women-headed households in South Carolina are below the poverty level and you can see why this becomes even more important.

It is not chump change.

It is not a small thing that will somehow even out later.

It is keeping many women, and their children, from the opportunity to rise above the forgotten part of our state.

Paycheck fairness

Why do we need the Paycheck Fairness Act when we already have the Equal Pay Act? Well, the Equal Pay Act was adopted in 1963. Even the best law might need some updating after 50 years.

Specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit employer retaliation against employees who discuss salaries with their colleagues, and require employers to explain legitimate wage differences between jobs, among other things.

Women are less likely to negotiate for a higher salary for their first job, and that has ramifications throughout their earning years.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would create a negotiating skills training program for women and girls, to empower them to change that all important first salary.

The act would also direct the EEOC to create a system to collect information about wages.

As the partnership so clearly stated in releasing its data Monday: “The economic security of women and families is put at risk when women are paid less than men.”

Everything stems from equal pay. With it, you have more opportunity, more hope for the future. Without it, you have the same problems rooted in poverty and missed opportunities.

This isn't about charity. It's about equality.