Wage Discrimination Needs Attention And A Legislative Fix
April 20, 2010 is Equal Pay Day. It was established in 1996 to illuminate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. The date symbolizes how far into 2010 women must work to earn what men earned in 2009.
This year, with the support of President Obama, Equal Pay Day should also bring attention to pending legislation intended to address lingering issues of pay disparity in the American workforce.
Here are some facts about pay equity from the National Organization for Women:
- In 2007, women's median annual paychecks reflected only 78 cents for every $1.00 earned by men. Specifically for women of color, the gap is even wider: In comparison to a man's dollar, African American women earn only 69 cents and Latinas just 59 cents.
- In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, full-time working women were paid 59 cents on average for every dollar paid to men. This means it took 44 years for the wage gap to close just 19 cents -- a rate of less than half a penny a year.
- The narrowing of this gap has slowed down over the last six years, with women gaining a mere two cents since 2001.
- Women's median pay was less than men's in each and every one of the 20 industries and 25 occupation groups surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007. Even men working in female-dominated occupations earn more than women working in those same occupations.
- According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, if equal pay for women were instituted immediately, across the board, it would result in an annual $319 billion gain nationally for women and their families (in 2008 dollars).
- When The WAGE Project looked exclusively at full-time workers, they estimated that women with a high school diploma lose as much as $700,000 over a lifetime of work, women with a college degree lose $1.2 million and professional school graduates may lose up to $2 million because of pay disparity.
- As a result, these inequities follow women into their retirement years, reducing their Social Security benefits, pensions, savings and other financial resources.
- A study by the American Association of University Women examined how the wage gap affects college graduates. Wage disparities kick in shortly after college graduation, when women and men should, absent discrimination, be on a level playing field.
- One year after graduating college, women are paid on average only 80 percent of their male counterparts' wages, and during the next 10 years, women's wages fall even further behind, dropping to only 69 percent of men's earnings ten years after college
I have represented women in discrimination cases for many years. From my vantage point it's clear that while the pay equity issues are not as blatant as they once were, wage discrimination is still a prevalent concern for women of all socio-economic groups.
It's also true that the Equal Pay Act of 1963, while well intentioned, has not come close to fulfilling its goal due to a whole host of reasons.
The good news is that there is a bill pending in Congress aimed at correcting unlawful wage disparities and which offers a legislative fix for some of the problems with the Equal Pay Act.
The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R.12 and S.182) was introduced January 2009 by then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rosa DeLauro to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The bill expands damages under the Equal Pay Act and amends its very broad fourth affirmative defense which will be a real help to victims of pay discrimination.
The Paycheck Fairness Act also prohibits retaliation against inquiring about or disclosing wage information and proposes voluntary EEOC guidelines to show employers how to evaluate jobs with the goal of eliminating unfair disparities. The bill was passed by the House in January of 2009 and is pending in the Senate. It's lead sponsor is Sen. Christopher Dodd.
There were hearings about the bill in March of this year with lots of illuminating testimony, including the remarks of Stuart Ishimaru, acting Chariman of the EEOC, which you can read here if you are interested in more detail about the subject.
The bottom line is if you care about equal rights for women and want to make a difference, please call or write your Senator and urge passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Here's a link that will help you send the message. We know that the President supports it -- we just need to get it on his desk.