Ladies, get ready to celebrate! Today marks a banner day for women in the workforce. It is Equal Pay Day, the day a working women's salary finally catches up to her male peer's salary — from last year. In other words, for women to make the same amount that their male colleagues did last year, they would also have to work an additional 3.5 months into the next calendar year. 

Equal Pay Day is the brain child of the National Committee on Pay Equity, a group that works to raise awareness about the pay gap between men and women. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of women and 63 percent of men said “this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace." 

The latest government analysis shows that full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn. The pay gap is even greater for African-American and Latina women, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man. 

Different research groups come up with slightly different figure, but no matter how you slice the data, the pay gap is real. Why does it exist? Three big reasons:

  1. More women than men take time off from work when they have kids. Time off from work — whether it's three months or three years — significantly affects a person's chances at advancement in the workplace.
  2. Higher paying occupations, such as professional and managerial positions, are still dominated by men.
  3. Good old-fashioned discrimination
According to the White House, "there is good evidence that discrimination contributes to the persistent pay disparity between men and women." In another Pew poll, women were twice as likely as men to say they had been discriminated against at work because of their gender. 

The pay gap affects the ability of women in the workforce today to care for themselves and their families. Statistics show that more than 50 percent of American households now depend on women as their primary or only source of income. So when women make less, children have access to less. 

The Equal Pay Law, ensuring equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, but as the numbers above show, progress has been slow. 

Related on MNN:

Equal Pay Day: The fight for fair wages rolls on
Despite advances, women still make only 77 cents for every dollar their male peers bring in.