Inquirer Editorial: Pace to gender equality too slow on pay days

Lilly Ledbetter addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Lilly Ledbetter addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2008. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 18, 2013

Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act mandating equality in how men and women are paid for the same job, a huge gap remains.

When the bill became law in 1963, a woman earned 59 cents for every $1 a man was paid. Women have become the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households with children, but they're only paid 77 cents to the dollar. The pay gap is narrowing slowly, at about a half-cent per year. At that rate, women won't get equal pay until 2058.

The disparity is even greater for minorities. African American women are paid 70 cents, and Hispanic women only 60 cents, for every dollar paid to men who do the same job, despite having the same skills and backgrounds. With the number of female-headed households increasing, the wage gap has a tremendous impact on families today. Many live below the federal poverty line.

President Obama, at a White House ceremony last week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, said new legislation is needed to close the pay gap. "When more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn't just be getting a little bit of bacon," Obama said.

Lawmakers could start by taking up the Paycheck Fairness Act, which last year fell short for the second time of the votes needed for passage in the Senate after Republicans blocked it on a procedural issue. A similar measure passed the House in 2009.

The legislation could help level the field by making it easier for women to find out how much their colleagues earn. It would prohibit companies from retaliating against workers for discussing their salaries. A recent survey found that 62 percent of private-sector workers are barred or discouraged from talking about their pay, compared with 18 percent in the public sector. If passed, the bill also would force employers to prove that any pay differences are based on job performance and are unrelated to gender.

In a discrimination case that helped rekindle the gender-pay debate, Lilly Ledbetter, a department manager at a Goodyear tire factory, was stunned when she learned how much more her male counterparts were paid. Ledbetter lost her discrimination suit in the U.S. Supreme Court after challenging the pay inequity. However, a 2009 law that bears her name eased statute-of-limitations restrictions, which made it possible for more employees to challenge unlawful pay discrimination based upon gender, race, age, or disability.

Some states, frustrated by the failure of the federal government to further strengthen equal-pay laws, are appropriately drafting their own, including New York. But that doesn't mean Congress should continue to drag its feet. Every American - male and female - deserves fairness in the workplace.

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