The United States has made progress in reducing the pay gap between men and women in the workplace since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Equal Pay Act into law nearly 50 years ago. The gender wage gap has been closing at a rate of less than half a cent per year, but while we have reduced its size, a gap still remains.
Today women are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, or $10,784 less a year on average.
To help close this gender pay gap, Senate Democrats this week brought to the floor the Paycheck Fairness Act. The legislation would update the Equal Pay Act to hold employers accountable for discriminatory practices and strengthens the available remedies for wronged employees.
Many women who are paid less than their male colleagues do not know it because their employer prohibits them from discussing their pay. Pay secrecy is common in the private sector, 61 percent of employees are either discouraged or prohibited from discussing wage and salary information. The Paycheck Fairness Act would ban retaliation against workers, male or female, who discuss their wages.
In some instances, it is difficult to uncover wage discrimination. To remedy this, the Paycheck Fairness Act would help the Department of Labor speed up the collection wage data from federal contractors and review available research to provide information on how to identify, correct, and eliminate illegal wage disparities.
The Lilly Ledbetter Act, passed in 2009, ensured the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay. Building on this advancement, the Paycheck Fairness Act will remove obstacles and facilitate a wronged worker’s participation in class action lawsuits that challenge systemic pay discrimination and ensure that gender discrimination cases under the Equal Pay Act are rightly treated as discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, requiring legal defense of employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons.
Unfortunately, this week Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote on this anti-discrimination bill. It is now up to Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to put the Paycheck Fairness Act up for a vote in the House of Representatives. House Democrats held a hearing last week on the persistent wage gap and need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. I have joined 189 of my colleagues to cosponsor the House version, H.R. 1519.
Closing the gender pay gap is not just an issue of fairness; it is an economic issue as well. More than half of all American households depend on a woman’s income to pay the bills. The real impact of a woman earning on average $10,784 less a year than a man is the equivalent of 183 tanks of gas or 92 bags of groceries for her family.
President Obama told Congress this week that he would sign the Paycheck Fairness Act into law. Even in the face of a defeat by Republicans in the Senate, I will be pushing for the Paycheck Fairness Act to receive a vote in the House.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.