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Katie Bethell's picture

Last week, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act -- his first new law as president, and a bill long championed by Connecticut's own Rosa DeLauro. In his speech to mark the occasion, he drew a direct connection between supporting fair pay practices, and the economic security of our country:

"Justice isn't about abstract legal theory, it's about how our laws affect the daily lives and the daily realities of people who are building to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals. Ultimately, equal pay isn't just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families--it's a question of who we are and whether we're truly living up to our fundamental ideals. Whether we'll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure that those words we put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something--to breathe new life into them, with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time."

In other words, when women and minorities don't get compensated fairly, it hurts our economy. Let's just look at retirement savings to see how:

Believe it or not, a recent study found that pay discrimination costs the average women $434,000 over a forty year period of time. (You can calculate your own career wage gap here.) That has a big impact on women's economic security, especially in their retirement years.

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office released a report showing that, "Despite increases in women's workforce behavior in the past 65 years, elderly women have persistently high rates of poverty."

Before you start walking down the garden path of arguing that women just don't work in jobs that make as much as men, read this, from the same report:

"Although work patterns are key in earnings differences, in prior work, we found that even after accounting for behavioral differences such as education or labor force participation, women still earn less than men. Certain life events--including changes in marital status, labor force interruptions, and long-term care needs--can significantly reduce the amount of pension income and Social Security benefits women receive--and leave women with fewer financial resources at retirement than men." (emphasis added).

As we think about economic security for this country, we must consider the fundamental reality that family caregiving responsibilities put wage earners in any family at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to saving for retirement, let alone paying their bills every month.

Nobody denies the reality that the aging baby boom generation will present vast and expensive economic challenges. And, fair pay law isn't going to fix those problems. But what it does do is provide us with an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and prevent the next generation from facing these same challenges.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act fixes a loophole in pay discrimination law that was created in a 2007 Supreme Court decision. By signing it into law, President Obama has brought the country back to where it was in 2007, so workers can effectively file pay discrimination cases.

But now we need to take this success and, in the words of Lilly Ledbetter herself, "Keep up the good work!" Combating pay discrimination is a key element to ensuring that working families have the resources they need to survive in the 21st Century.

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