Today is Equal Pay Day, marking how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to earn as much as a man earned the previous year. President John Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 when women who worked full-time, year-round made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. More than 40 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women continue to be paid less for performing the same job as their male colleagues. On average, women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This wage gap hurts everyone–husbands, wives, children, and parents–because it lowers family incomes that pay for essentials like groceries, doctors' visits, child care. This is especially true now as 41% of American women are their families' sole source of income.
The 111th Congress has been working on achieving equal pay for women–specifically the House has passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. The House and Senate passed the final version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act last year and President Obama signed the bill into law on January 29, 2009–the first major bill he signed. The legislation restores the rights of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay. While the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restores the right to seek legal redress, the Paycheck Fairness Act is equally important–it provides the tools necessary to give new teeth to the Equal Pay Act and provide incentives for businesses to follow the law in the first place. The House passed the bill by a vote of 256-163 last year, but the Senate has not acted. Last year, Lilly Ledbetter wrote to Senators about why it is so important to also enact the Paycheck Fairness Act:
The first step was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act…The next logical step is the Paycheck Fairness Act, a critical and comprehensive update to the 46-year-old Equal Pay Act that brings equal pay laws in line with other civil rights law. This bill would take real steps to deter wage discrimination by empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, creating stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, and strengthening federal enforcement efforts. … From my perspective, one of the most important provisions of the bill would prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages to others. This provision would have been particularly helpful to me, because Goodyear prohibited me and my colleagues from discussing or sharing our wages. This policy delayed my discovery of the pay inequities between me and my male counterparts by almost two decades.
Speaker Pelosi on Equal Pay Day:
Equal Pay Day is an opportunity to honor America's working women, to reaffirm our belief in equal pay for equal work, and to renew our effort to bring fairness and equality to the workplace.
This Congress has made equal pay a key priority for our economic recovery and a central tenet of our progress as a nation. In passing the Lilly Ledbetter Act — the first bill President Obama signed into law — we restored the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court.
With women still earning just 77 cents for every dollar men make, the House also passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and imposing stiff penalties on employers who discriminate based on gender. We look forward to working with the Senate to complete this bill and send it to the President's desk.
We must ensure equity for women even before receiving our first paycheck — whether in the classroom or on the playing field. I commend the Obama Administration for today's announcement clarifying Title IX policy, ensuring the interests and abilities of both genders are represented in athletic activities — one of the key areas young people learn to lead, compete, and excel.
When we support women, we invest in communities. When a mother is rewarded for a hard day's work, families grow stronger. When a woman is paid fairly, we move one step closer to living up to our nation's goal of equality. When a girl is given the opportunity and the training to compete, we build stronger leaders for tomorrow.
On this Equal Pay Day, we must recommit ourselves to equality and to opening the doors of opportunity for America's women and to putting our families first.