Skip to main content

In America today, women now make up half of the workforce, and two-thirds of women are either the sole bread-winner or co-breadwinner in their family. Women are also more likely than men to graduate from college. They run more than 10 million businesses with combined annual sales of $1.1 trillion, and are responsible for making 80% of consumer buying decisions

And yet, right now, a decade into the 21st century, women make only 77 cents on the dollar as compared to men – 76 cents here in Connecticut. Women of color are even worse off – African American women make 71 cents on the dollar compared to the highest earners. Hispanic women make only 62 cents.

These disparities exist at all levels of education and occupation. And it is felt even deeper in female-headed households, which are much more likely to be low-income. Unmarried women have an average annual household salary that is almost $12,000 lower than unmarried men, and they make a paltry 56 cents on the dollar when compared to married men.

Over a lifetime, these disparities take a huge toll on women. According to the National Committee for Pay Equity, women are losing out on between $400,000 and $2 million on average over the course of a lifetime. As a result, 70 percent of seniors living in poverty are women.

This is not a new problem. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower told Congress that “legislation to apply the principle of equal pay for equal work without discrimination because of sex is a matter of simple justice.” Seven years later, under President Kennedy, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act to end the “serious and endemic problem” of unequal wages. And almost a half-century after that, we all know that the Act is not working as intended in its current form.

That is why we mark today, Pay Equity Day, the day that a woman’s 2010 earnings catches up with what men made last year. Suffice to say, this is an occasion I wish we no longer had to commemorate.

The good news is that we are getting closer to real pay equity in America. The Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that I introduced, will put teeth in the Equal Pay Act at last, passed the House for the second time last Congress. And, although it did not quite make it in the Senate – falling two votes short of the needed sixty to beat a filibuster – it received 58 votes. That is well over a majority.

The new House majority that took power in January is less amenable to equal pay remedies than last year’s Congress. When they previously held the Majority, they never even gave the bill a hearing, and, frankly, it is hard enough even keeping the government running under their watch. But I am going to keep fighting for paycheck fairness – in fact, I have reintroduced the act today. To me, failure is not an option. We have a moral obligation to face this continuing pay inequity head-on, and it is time to get this done.

Even as we debate the budget in Congress, equal pay is moving forward right across the street at the Supreme Court. Two weeks ago, the Court heard arguments in Wal-Mart v Dukes, the largest civil rights class action lawsuit in our history.

The six lead plaintiffs, all former Wal-Mart employees who – like countless other women in the Wal-Mart operation – were systematically discriminated against, have been fighting for fair pay for over a decade now. Like Lily Ledbetter, they are women of remarkable courage and strength. I am humbled by their toughness, and I hope the Supreme Court sees fit to do them justice. After all their case includes 120 sworn statements recounting sex discrimination in pay, in promotion, and in the work environment.

At the time their case was filed, in 2001, Wal-Mart had less female managers than its closest competitors did in 1975. And it came out in the New York Times that in 1995, six years before this lawsuit was filed, Wal-Mart knew that their male employees were earning 19 percent more than women, and that men were five and a half times as likely to be promoted in salaried, management positions

Last year, a jury found that the pharmaceutical company Novartis has been systematically underpaying their female employees – $105 less per month, on average, than the men with similar experience and tenure.

This is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution.  That is why I am going to keep fighting for paycheck fairness. It’s time to ensure that America’s women – now half of the nation's workforce – are treated as fairly and equitably as the other half. Let's give real teeth to the Equal Pay Act at last, and do what we can to make this one of the last “Equal Pay Days” in our history.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of strongly encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We value diversity of opinions and perspectives. Our goals for this space are to be educational, thought-provoking, and respectful. So we actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that undermine these goals. Thanks!