On 47th Anniversary, the Equal Pay Act Must Finally Live Up to its Name

Image: Linda MericImagine for a moment that you work in a department with three employees: one African-American, one Caucasian and one Latina. One day, someone new is hired.

Imagine discovering that this new hire is to be paid much more than any of you; even more than the Latina, who has been employed there for 14 years. Imagine your outrage; especially since the only difference is that all of you are women — and the new hire is a man.

This story, from a Denver woman who now works in the financial industry, might be shocking to those of us who believe in equity and fairness, but it’s not unique.

All over this country, similar stories play out, most anonymous and a few now famous — like that of Lilly Ledbetter, who worked 20 years at a Goodyear plant in Alabama before learning that the men who performed the same job as she had been earning more all along.

It’s time that pay discrimination end and the pay gap close in this country — and there is something we all can do about it right now! Push the U.S. Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

On average, women earn about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color, African American women and Latinas, the gap is even wider. Men of color experience a pay gap, too, compared to white men. Some don’t like to talk about it; some even refuse to believe it. Some think we got past this kind of blatant discrimination long ago.

Forty-seven years ago, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, women’s rights activists celebrated. After years of effort, finally there was a law that prohibited women from being paid less than men for doing the exact same jobs.

Women finally had some equality in their paychecks — at least by law. When the Equal Pay Act passed, women earned, on average, 60 cents for every dollar earned by men. In the forty-seven years that have passed, the pay gap has closed by less than less than 20 cents.

Now, we have a chance to make further progress to close the pay gap: the Paycheck Fairness Act.

A desperately needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182) would close loopholes, strengthen business incentives to end pay discrimination, prohibit retaliation against workers who share wage information, and bring the Equal Pay Act in line with other civil rights laws.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has passed in the House of Representatives. President Barack Obama is ready to sign it into law. But it’s bottlenecked in the U. S. Senate. If it doesn’t move forward this year, we’ll have to start all over again.

Meanwhile, paying women less affects not only us and our families, but our communities and even our nation because it means we have less to spend on rent and mortgage payments, medical care, taxes, retirement savings and other basic necessities.

Women can’t afford to lose another penny. Our nation can’t afford to wait another year.

Speak out now. Encourage the Senate to pass this much needed update so that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 can finally start to live up to its name.

Help us support the Paycheck Fairness Act by contacting your Congressman and urging their voice behind the bill.

About The Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, an inclusive multi-racial membership-based organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy. Linda has spent more than 30 years as a labor and community organizer. She also serves as an adjunct professor specializing in sexual harassment and other workplace issues.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.