We Will Win the Fight for Equal Pay

Think about 20 cents. It doesn’t feel very significant — there isn’t much you could buy with it. But over a lifetime, those 20 cents add up in a major way.

Today, we have reached yet another Equal Pay Day — the day on which the average woman’s earnings finally catch up to what the average man made last year. This year’s Equal Pay Day falls 94 days into 2017 — 94 days too late.

Women are nearly half the workforce — yet they still only earn about 80 cents, on average, to a man’s dollar. The gap widens even further when you consider women of color — African-American women make 63 cents on the dollar, while Latinas make only 54 cents, on average, compared with what white men earn. This is unacceptable.

The National Women’s Law Center found that based on today’s wage gap, a woman starting her career now will lose $418,800 over a 40-year career. For African-Americans, the losses are $840,040. And for Latinas, the lifetime gap is over $1 million.

These disparities exist at all levels of education and occupation — even at the very top. The world champion U.S. women’s soccer team is fighting for pay equality, as are Academy-Award winning actresses from Emma Stone to Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette, who have used their platforms to call for equal pay in Hollywood.

Men and women in the same job should have the same pay. Period. Wage discrimination takes place not just on the soccer field or the silver screen, but in the board room, on the factory floor, and in countless other workplaces across the country. That is why I am fighting for equal pay — for all women.

I am fighting for AnnMarie in Massachusetts, who found out, years into her job, that the university she worked for was paying men more for the same work. I am fighting for Terri in Tennessee, who only discovered she was making less than she deserved because her husband held the exact same job and was paid more! And I am fighting ReShonda in Iowa, who discovered that her own father was paying women less when she went to work in the family business. Pay discrimination in the workplace is real — and it is happening everywhere.

Pay inequity does not just affect women — it affects children, families, and our economy as a whole. That is because women in this country are the sole or co-breadwinner in half of families with children. The biggest problem facing our country today is that families are not making enough to live on — and closing the wage gap would help address that problem.

Over 50 years ago, Congress came together — in a bipartisan fashion — to pass the Equal Pay Act and end what President John F. Kennedy called “the serious and endemic problem” of unequal wages. The Equal Pay Act made it illegal for employers to pay men and women differently for substantially equal work. Yet we still have so far to go to close the wage gap.

In 2009, we took a critical step forward with the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which kept the courthouse door open to sue for pay discrimination. But we must continue the fight and finish the job by passing into law the Paycheck Fairness Act.

I first introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act on June 24, 1997 — almost 20 years ago. The Paycheck Fairness Act will mean real progress in the fight to eliminate the gender wage gap and help families. The act ensures that employers who try to justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job must show 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 coworkers. The bill would also allow women to join together in class-action lawsuits where there are allegations of sex-based pay discrimination.

The bill actually passed the House twice, with bipartisan support. Yet it has never made it to the president’s desk — despite the fact that this is an issue that affects every single state in this country. In the last session of Congress, I was proud to have every single Democratic member of Congress signed onto the Paycheck Fairness Act — and even one Republican!

But we need to keep fighting. When women raise their voices, we get results. Take the recent victory for the U.S. women’s national hockey team, who were able to negotiate a historic new contract to address pay inequality. They spoke up — even threatening to boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship games — and their voices were heard.

In January, I attended the Women’s March in Washington. The organic energy — the real, tangible power of the people — was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was a stark reminder of what we can achieve together, when we speak with one voice and demand what we deserve.

When I looked out at the sea of pink hats and powerful, handmade signs, I thought of my mother. When she was born, women could not even vote. Yet today, her daughter is a congresswoman. When we fight for equal pay for equal work, we carry on the legacy of all the women who have fought before us. And when we finally succeed, we will create a better future for all the women who will follow us.

Equal pay is an idea whose time has come — in fact, it is long overdue. But we have the power. We have the momentum. And I believe that we will win.

Rosa DeLauro

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