51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law as part of his New Frontier Program. The law states that “no employer shall discriminate between employees on the basis of sex.” More than half a century later, women are leaning in more and more each day: we make up nearly half of the workforce and are primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households with children under the age of 18, according to research by Pew Research Center. However, women still make only 77 cents for every man’s dollar (and even less for women of color). This pay gap will cost a woman at least $400,000 over the course of her career.  Hence, it was disappointing to see Senate Republicans block the Paycheck Fairness Act this morning, just one day after President Obama signed an executive order to address the federal government’s gender wage gap. Thanks to 42 Republicans who voted against the bill this morning, April 9th has officially become National Unequal Pay Day for me.
April 8th 2014 is National Equal Pay Day because it marks the number of extra days into 2014 that the average working woman has to work to earn as much as her male colleague did in 2013. That’s 94 days, or 752 hours (with a typical 9-5 working day)! Without further action, the gender pay gap won’t close until 2058, when most millennials will be already retired (some more comfortably and securely than others).
We need this bill to pass. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voting no (a procedural move), he can re-introduce the bill on the Senate floor. Senate Republicans have argued that there are two other laws that already work on closing gender wage gap, in addition to the Lilly Ledbetter Act. If that’s true, why then haven’t we seen any progress? While the Equal Pay Act already made pay discrimination illegal and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act expands women’s options for fighting employers’ sex discrimination, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect salary information for employers and protect employees from retaliation from employers for inquiring or disclosing their wage in a complaint or investigation.
The Paycheck Fairness Act has now failed three times. It’s time for our legislators to vote with their consciences instead of voting along the party lines. If the 43 Republican Senators who voted no and the 3 other Republicans who did vote truly care about women’s advancement and equal justice, they should vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act.