The Women's Legal Defense Fund is beginning a public education campaign on women's employment rights that will do nothing to improve President Reagan's status with women voters. The campaign initially will focus on the fact that women earn only 59 cents for every dollar a man earns; it will then connect that to the Reagan administration's relentless erosion of programs designed to secure economic parity for women.

The polls are showing that next to the war-and-peace issue, the economy is producing the most disaffection with the president among women voters. Women have been more skeptical of Reaganomics and of cuts in social programs which hurt them disproportionately. Their economic unease is being reflected in the unprecedented emergence of a "women's vote" in American politics. This is fertile territory for a campaign that connects women's lower economic status with what the Reagan administration is doing to perpetuate it through often little-understood and underreported changes in obscure agency regulations.

The public education campaign is being conducted with money from the Rockefeller Family Fund and will feature radio announcements in 10 cities, initially. The message that the fund hopes to get across is that women consistently are paid less than men for the same or similar work because of systemic discrimination that has proved impervious to such legislation as the Equal Pay Act."The reality of the two-paycheck family in this country," said fund executive director Judith Lichtman, "is that two paychecks bring home one and a half incomes."

Discrimination in initial job assignments and pay, in promotion and titles, and sex-segregated work are widely blamed for the wage gap, which has, in fact, increased since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. But the Reagan administration has weakened and in some instances dropped the network of federal training and child-care programs designed to get women into nontraditional, better-paying jobs. It has initiated a full-scale retreat from affirmative action enforcement programs, goals and timetables, and back pay as class remedies for discrimination by federal contractors. It has proposed weakened affirmative action requirements among federal contractors and cut training funds benefiting displaced homemakers, the elderly and welfare recipients.

People who have been appointed to equal employment opportunity enforcement jobs have either been ignorant about women's rights or "actively hostile to them," according to the WLDF. The Women's Educational Equity Action Program, the only federal program designed to promote educational equity, has been targeted for extinction.Individually, the administration's skirmishes against the little-known but important devices for improving the economic well-being of women have gone largely unnoticed by the general public. But the overall pattern is one of an ideological assault on a decade's worth of progress and increased opportunities for women. A large segment of the public, including men, has a stake in that progress.

The wage gap is directly linked to sex, not to skill, education, or experience. Dorothy Thompson, a real person featured in a WLDF ad, works on a bindery sewing machine, earning four dollars less an hour than the man who does the cutting and gathering. Jobs where men predominate generally are better paid and higher valued than jobs where women predominate, regardless of the merit or difficulty of the job. The average secretarial salary is $12,000, the average janitorial salary, $11,400, according to the latest Bureau of Labor statistics. The average salary for a registered nurse is $17,300; for a pharmacist, it's $24,100. Even when men and women do the same job, the wage gap persists: 90 percent of the people waiting on tables in restaurants are women, but in 1981, the average waiter earned $200 a week; the average waitress earned $144.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 74 percent of the more than 43 million women who are working have husbands who earn less than $20,000, which suggests that women's employment rights aren't merely a "women's issue." In fact, some 30 million husbands have a stake in closing the wage gap holding down their wives' income.

"It Pays to Be a Man," is the slogan WLDF has adopted for its public awareness campaign. The question the campaign can help answer in November is whether it pays for the Reagan administration to be against women.