Unequal pay no myth to America’s female workforce

Unequal pay no myth to America’s female workforce
By: Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Lilly Ledbetter

Nearly 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed to end the “serious and endemic problem” of unequal wages, women in America still make only 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. Yet many Republicans remain willfully oblivious to the fact that pay inequity persists.

In Congress, the majority has been unwilling to stand up for women’s economic security by supporting moderate legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act. Even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney refuses to say whether he supports the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Just weeks ago, conservative pundits like Alex Castellanos and Dana Perino deemed unequal pay for women a “myth” and a “distraction,” respectively. Other pundits actually said that equal laws for women would result in lower pay for men. This is nonsense, especially since the Equal Pay Act expressly forbids lowering men’s pay as a method for closing the pay gap.

In 2009, few Republicans supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, passed to ensure that women have the right to sue as long as their discriminatory pay continues. This critical law responded to a shortsighted Supreme Court decision that denied Ledbetter redress for decades of unequal pay at an Alabama Goodyear plant — which she discovered only after an anonymous tip.

This should not be a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats should be able to come together in the name of basic fairness and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a common-sense reform that brings equal pay law into line with other civil rights laws.

This is the next step forward. It ensures that employers who try to justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job must show that the disparity is not sex-based, but job-related and necessary. It prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who discuss or disclose their own salary information with their co-workers, and it strengthens the remedies available to wronged employees.

Conservatives may have their heads buried in the sand, but the gender wage gap is not a myth. Study after study from economists, experts and the Government Accountability Office has demonstrated that women are being paid less than their male colleagues for the same work across age, occupation and education level.

The 23-cent gap between men’s and women’s earnings can be only partially explained away by occupational choices; differences in the number of hours that men or women work or other such factors.

For example, men out-earned women in 19 of the 20 most common occupations for women last year, according to a 2012 analysis of occupation and wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as 19 of the 29 most common occupations for men.

A 2007 study by the American Association of University Women — which accounted for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, grade-point average, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status and number of children — found a 12 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates 10 years after graduation. A comprehensive report by the Government Accountability Office found a similar wage gap.

If you doubt these statistics, do your own personal survey: Ask your mother, wife, daughter or sister.

The fact that we even have to debate the existence of a gender wage gap is yet another example of how out of touch conservatives have become. This basic fact has not been in dispute in the past. More than a half-century ago, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower told Congress that “legislation to apply the principle of equal pay for equal work without discrimination because of sex is a matter of simple justice.”

What Eisenhower called “simple justice,” today’s conservatives deem a “myth” and a “distraction.” Wrongheaded remarks like these also reflect the fundamental inability to comprehend the financial pressures women and their families are facing in this economy.

Pay inequity hurts not only women but families — especially the more than two-thirds of American families in which women are either breadwinners or co-breadwinners. When women are paid less, families have less take-home pay to make ends meet and make the economy grow.

Passing this Paycheck Fairness Act on Tuesday would give real teeth to the Equal Pay Act passed a half-century ago. It is essential to closing the gender wage gap and promoting the economic security of women and their families.

Pay inequity due to gender discrimination is neither a myth nor a distraction. It is real and should not be tolerated, With this bill, we can take action against it.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Lilly Ledbetter is the namesake of the 2009 law that preserved the right to challenge pay discrimination in court.

Rosa DeLauro

View posts by Rosa DeLauro
Scroll to top