It is no huge secret that in the last few decades American workers are falling further behind. They are losing rights, and have seen their wages stagnate even in periods of economic growth and record profits. Even worse is that with more and more women leading households in our country, their wages are still sagging far behind men who do the same or similar work. Unfortunately, although the issue was addressed in the Senate this past Friday, little note of it was made in the media who are still determined to stay transfixed on the shiny object of any particular day.
Whether people know it or not however, the disparity of pay between working American women is a big problem in our country. The statistics are quite sobering:
Right now, U.S. working women receive 77 cents for every dollar paid to a male worker. The ratio has remained nearly unchanged for years. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has been pushing for more than a decade to pass a paycheck fairness bill, and yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12/S. 182).
The act would amend the 1963 Equal Pay Act, in a way DeLauro describes as a modest reform "that closes longstanding loopholes" and "stiffens penalties" for employers who discriminate based on gender.
This amendment to the 1963 act is desperately needed as statistics have now shown that it has been completely ineffective in closing the "career pay gap" spanning the lifetimes of working women. They are still well behind men in comparable fields and it begins as soon as they hit the workforce:
The premise that current laws are effective is wrong, said Deborah Brake, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. Testifying before the Senate committee, she said most of women's wage gains in pay relative to men occurred in the 1980s and there has been very little movement since.
Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist Heather Boushey noted the pay gap starts the minute college grads throw their caps in the air, with newly graduated women earning an average 5 percent less than men who graduated from similar universities and engage in similar work. What then follows is a "career pay gap" of up to $434,000 in lifetime lost earnings for women who are the most educated and have higher-paying jobs.
Worse yet, when total assets are included minority women are particularly hit hard by the lower wages consistently paid to women. They are hit hard by both the race and gender factor:
Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, meaning their debts exceed all their assets. The median wealth for single black women is only $100; for single Hispanic women, $120. This compares to just over $41,000 for single white women. About one- third of single Hispanic women and one-fourth of single black women have no checking or savings account.
It is sad that our country has waged a war on it's own working class for the last several decades. Even if you are not a woman, these statistics represent important parts of your life, and are not just numbers. The knowledge that those of us who have wives, mothers, sisters, gandmothers, knieces and the like that in the modern economy have to work to help support their family or support their family alone all while being discriminated against in regards to pay should outrage us all.
While the Lilly Ledbetter law was a step in the right direction by expanding the ability for women to gain redress in the court system much still has to be done. Until the disparity in wages for women are seriously addressed economic justice in our country for anyone will be impossible to achieve. The National Women's Law Center has summarized what this Paycheck Fairness Act will do:
Section 3(a) requires that non-gender reasons for the difference in wages have a business justification. Current law allows an employer to defend a gender difference in pay if the difference is based on: (i) seniority systems; (2) merit systems; (3) systems that measure earnings by quality or quantity of production; or (4) "any factor other than sex." Courts have interpreted the "any factor other than sex" factor so broadly that it embraces an almost limitless number of factors, including those without a business justification or that are themselves derived from factors that are sex-based, so long as they do not explicitly mention sex.
As a result, employers have been able to successfully raise factors such as market forces and prior salaries to justify a gender wage disparity, even though the Supreme Court rejected the market forces defense as early as 1974, and even though the disparity is in fact linked to sex discrimination.
This legislation restores the original intent of the Equal Pay Act by clarifying the "any factor
other than sex" defense. Under this section, to successfully raise this affirmative defense, an
employer must demonstrate that the disparity is based on a bona fide factor other than sex, such
as education, training, or experience, that is: (1) not based upon or derived from a sex-based
differential; (2) job-related to the position in question; and (3) consistent with business necessity.
The defense will not apply if the employee can then demonstrate that an alternative employment
practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the differential and that the employer has refused to adopt the alternative. This language mirrors comparable language in Title VII.
It is time that work is once again respected and rewarded in our country. The unjust disparity in wages for women in our country is a very good place to start. We should all pressure the Senate to pass The Paycheck Fairness Act and the President to sign it. Even if you are not a woman the women in your life will love you more for it...