Support the Paycheck Fairness Act
Support the Paycheck Fairness Act
In January 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into Law. The bill, amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act, enhanced workers rights to sue for pay discrimination.
Female Wal-Mart store workers won a court ruling in April, allowing more than a million of the store’s women workers to move forward with claims seeking back-pay due to discrimination. This was the largest gender-bias case in U.S. history.
Both these events point to the reality that gender wage bias and the occupational segregation of women in low-wage service jobs makes families more vulnerable. Women represent half of America’s workforce, but two-thirds work in the lowest paid occupations -- including 75.5 percent of the nation’s cashiers. The decline in the U.S. economy and the loss of jobs means working mothers in families where fathers or partners have lost jobs are now stretching their dollars even more.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, “There are only four occupations out of 108 where women earn more than men. The occupation where women have the highest earnings compared to men is dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers; an occupation that ranks among the 10 lowest for men with a median weekly pay of $400 for women and $360 for men in 2009.”
The pay equity comparison is worse for “physicians and surgeons, one of the 10 highest paid jobs for both men and women. For men, median weekly earnings are $1,914 and $1,182 for women.”
While women were 50 percent of the workforce at the end of 2009 and more men were being laid off than women, Wendy Stock at Montana State University observed, “Just because a job becomes available doesn’t mean it pays well. As the economy recovers, we see women who left the labor force coming back, and we see more entry-level jobs.”
Additionally, job cuts in male-dominated fields such as construction impact the employment gain women are experiencing.
As the weather warms and men are recalled to construction and other weather impacted jobs, such as landscaping, the women’s employment experience is likely to change. In “Don’t Give Me Roses, Just Give Me Equity,” Linda Basch of the National Council for Research on Women noted, “Everybody knows women still only make 77 cents to the male dollar, but when you break it down by race, the disparity becomes even more dramatic: Latina women…59.2 percent and African American women 71.9 percent.”
In fact, a CNN Money column on Ariane Hegewisch’s study of women’s earnings noted that when education and tenure are accounted for “at least half the gap remains unexplained.”
Forty-seven years have passed since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, but women’s earnings still lag far behind men’s. This year we have a chance to push for the Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress, which could go a long way toward fulfilling the promises of 1963.
Efforts from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and its coalition partners resulted in President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Jan. 9, 2009. However, Congress still must pass legislation that can effectively establish equal pay protections for women.
Between 2007 and 2008, the gap between women’s and men’s wages grew, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Full-time, year-round women workers made 77 percent of the wages of their male counterparts, down from 78 percent in 2007.
One year after graduating college, women who work full time already earn less than their male colleagues; and this pay gap widens by the 10-year mark, according to research by AAUW. When researchers controlled their studies for factors such as hours worked and parental status, they found one-quarter of the pay gap is still unexplained and is likely due to sex discrimination.
Another segment of the population harshly impacted by the economy is that of single mothers. At 13 percent, their reported national unemployment rate is the highest in a quarter century.
The number of working women living with an unemployed partner is estimated to be 2 million. Such women typically contributed about a third to the family’s income. This now accounts for the entire household income, a reflection of family economic vulnerability.
When health insurance, usually provided by the men who are now not working, is taken into consideration, the severity of the situation becomes more apparent. The lack of health insurance combined with the wage gap mean stress for families.
Unmarried women suffer from this earnings imbalance disproportionately. Unmarried women represent almost half of the female population. But, in the unemployed female population, they make up 63 percent. They comprise 60 percent of women who lack health insurance and 75 percent of women living in poverty.
Congress can act now to protect the economic security of women – particularly unmarried women – and their families by increasing wages to achieve equal pay or better pay for women.
The Washington Office of Public Policy has been collaborating with women’s advocates in support of five policy proposals that would strengthen protections against gender-based wage discrimination:
1. Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act would help the most. Passed by the House in 2009, this bill is expected to come before the Senate this year.
2. The Women WIN Jobs Act would aim to improve job training and create better jobs for women.
3. Congress can reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and use it to focus on workforce development needs of single women.
4. Congress can reauthorize and expand the Child Care and Development Block Grant, to subsidize child care for low-income families.
5. Congress can make higher learning more accessible, with bills such as the Pathways Advancing Careers Training Act, targeting opportunities for job training.
Contact your Senators and tell them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.182) this year.
Dial 202-224-3121 to reach the Capitol Switchboard or call your representatives in their district office.
Also encourage the other four policy recommendations:
1. The Women WIN Jobs Act (H.R.4830),
2. Reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA, H.R.5708)
3. Reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 (HR 1662),
4. The Pathways Advancing Careers Training Act (H.R.2074)
Visit AAUW’s webpage on Pay Equity.
Read The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church 2008 #3445, The Status of Women, “Economics” page 528.