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Senator Tom Harkin's picture

By Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Earlier this year, on April 20th, we observed Equal Pay Day, the date that marked the 110 extra days that women had to work into 2010 in order to equal what men earned in 2009.  This is an injustice of this first order.

In 1963, Congress first responded to the wage gap between men and women by enacting the Equal Pay Act to end this unfair discrimination against women in the workforce.  Over the past 47 years, we have made progress toward this important goal, but progress has been stalled in the last decade.  It is unacceptable that a woman still makes only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.  In fact, this wage gap exists in every segment of our society -- women of every race and national origin, and in almost every sector of the economy earn less than their counterparts.

Make no mistake, the wage gap is not just a woman’s issue.  It is a family issue.  Millions of families rely on a woman’s pay-check to get by.  Two-thirds of mothers are bringing home at least a quarter of their family’s earnings.  In many families, the woman is the sole breadwinner.  And, during the latest economic downturn, more men have lost jobs than women, making households even more dependent than ever on women’s earnings.

America’s women are working harder than ever, but they’re not being fairly compensated for their contributions to our economy.  As a result, their families are struggling to put food on the table, pay for child care and deal with rising health care bills.  This isn’t fair, and it isn’t right.

To help address this very issue, I was very pleased to work to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law last year.  Named for a woman who simply asked to be paid the same amount as a man for performing the same labor, the bill helps curb the unfair practice of pay discrimination.  This bill is an important step but much more needs to be done.  That is why I strongly support the Paycheck Fairness Act.  This bill would strengthen penalties for discrimination and give women the tools they need to identify and confront unfair treatment.

On November 17, 2010, the Senate voted on a motion to consider the Paycheck Fairness Act. I was proud to speak on the Senate floor in favor of this bill and pay equality for women. Unfortunately, a minority of Senators blocked the Senate from even debating the bill, let alone permitting the Senate to vote yes or no on this important piece of legislation. I do hope this legislation will advance in the Senate in the future and rest assured I will not stop fighting for this legislation.

But the Paycheck Fairness Act is not all the change that is needed.  It is also critical for Congress to pass the Fair Pay Act, which I have introduced in every session of Congress since 1996.  As a nation, we unjustly devalue jobs traditionally performed by women, even when they require comparable skills to jobs traditionally performed by men.  Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor?  Why is a parking meter reader worth less than an electrical meter reader?  To address this more subtle discrimination, the Fair Pay Act ensure that employers provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.  We must work together to pass this legislation, and eliminate the subtle and systematic issues that lead to unequal pay.

Women have waited long enough for fair pay, and these pieces of legislation are important steps toward achieving it and I will not give up on the cause. As long as I am in the Senate, all women fighting for equal pay can know that they have a dedicated ally in the U.S. Senate.

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