Equal wages long overdue

Rosa DeLauro and Teresa Younger: Equal wages long overdue
Rosa DeLauro and Teresa Younger

In his second inaugural address, President Obama reminded America that “our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.” A few days later, Governor Malloy asked his departments of Labor and Economic and Community Development to look into gender-based wage disparities in the private sector in Connecticut.

Both President Obama and Governor Malloy are asking the questions that are long overdue. Why do equally qualified women make, on average, just 77 cents for every dollar a man makes? Why, 50 years after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act to end the “serious and endemic problem” of unequal pay, has the gender-based wage gap only closed by less than one cent per year? And why are companies not held accountable when they blatantly persist in this economic form of discrimination?

According to the AAUW’s Wage Project, over a lifetime a high school graduate is deprived of $700,000 of the income she has rightly earned. For college graduates, the wage gap robs women of $1.2 million, and for professional school graduates, it is $2 million. For women of color, these disparities are even worse. And the wage gap is not just a problem for women but for families, who are trying to pay their bills, get ahead, and achieve the American dream, and are getting less take-home pay than they have earned for their hard work.

It is well past time to take the further concrete steps that will close the wage gap for good. Four years ago, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which ensured that women who are discriminated against have the right to sue as long as their unequal pay continues. This was a good and necessary first step, one that rectified the damage done by a divided Supreme Court in their flawed Ledbetter decision.

The next step is the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation Congressman DeLauro first introduced in 1997 and reintroduced last week. The Paycheck Fairness Act requires that employers who try to justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job prove that the disparity is not sex-based, but job-related and necessary. It prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who discuss or disclose salary information with their co-workers. And it strengthens the remedies available to wronged employees, to give the Equal Pay Act real teeth at last.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has passed the House twice and enjoys the support of the president and more than 200 organizations across the political spectrum, including the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the American Association of University Women, Business and Professional Women, and the National Women’s Law Center. It will make a huge difference in ending unequal pay, but we do not have to wait for Congress to act.

As such, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman DeLauro have officially called on the president to take action, including by issuing an executive order banning government contractors from retaliating against employees for disclosing salary information. While Congress waits to act, President Obama can make a difference now by expecting compliance from the companies with whom the U.S. government does business. We strongly urge him to do so.

Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, and as Connecticut and the nation continue to struggle to pull out of this recession, it is important to see our failure to remedy the wage gap as a huge missed opportunity. When women are finally paid what they deserve for doing the same jobs as their husbands and brothers, that additional income will help to stimulate the economy and create more jobs all across this nation. We are now in the second decade of the 21st century. It is time to answer President Obama’s eloquent call and make the wage gap a thing of the past.

Rosa DeLauro is congresswoman from the Third District in Connecticut. Teresa Younger is executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.

Rosa DeLauro

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