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Liz O Donnell's picture

Tuesday, April 17 is Equal Pay Day, again. Equal Pay Day 2009 was impetus for my starting this blog. That day I dropped my son at school; at my request he was wearing red – one of the ways activists observe the day. As he was filing into class, I turned to a group of mothers and noted how proud I was he was helping me observe the event. The women, including several who work outside the home, had never heard of the gender wage gap. I was shocked and thought to myself, “Hello ladies, you need to know this!” A blog was born.

Back then, women earned, on average, just 77 cents for every dollar a man earned. Today women earn 77.4 cents. The current gap translates into $10,622 less per year in median earnings, and for women of color, the gap is even greater. African-American women earn, on average, 62 cents, and Hispanic women earn, on average 54 cents, for every dollar men earn.

I can understand why some of my neighbors may not have been aware of the gap three years ago. For starters, women typically don’t talk about salaries. It’s frowned upon in the workplace and it’s considered impolite. On top of that, women are subject to a steady stream of input about their careers that serves only to confuse and incite us and to obscure facts. Look no further than the recent blow up and sparking of a fresh round of “mommy wars” over Hilary Rosen’s comments regarding Ann Romney’s credentials as an economic advisor. Especially when it comes to working and mothering, we hear we should work, we should not, and that our children, our choices and even our chores, all contribute to our salary and stature. Is it any wonder the wage gap between non-mothers and mothers is greater than the gap between women and men?

The Paycheck Fairness Act would, among other things, prohibit retaliation against employees who ask about or disclose their wages. The Senate rejected the bill in November 2010 but Senator Barb Mikulski and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro reintroduced it in 2011. The Paycheck Fairness Act would also strengthen the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which gives employees a longer window to file discrimination claims and was signed by President Obama in January 2009.

If there is ever going to be a year when we can raise awareness about the gender wage gap and persuade Washington to help, this is it. Seven long months away from the general election and already the two political parties are desperately pursuing the “women vote,” with Mitt Romney scrambling to close a polling gender gap.

The former governor of Massachusetts is trying to distance his campaign from the anti-woman legislation and rhetoric that has marred the Republican primary race. His efforts include an attempt to paint President Obama’s job policies as bad for women – a claim Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and many others, reject. And, he is positioning his wife as his expert on all things women – which has resulted in his exclaiming women care about the economy. However the women, and men, in the two-thirds of all U.S. households that rely on a woman’s salary, already knew that.

No doubt the GOP hopes to change the debate from hot button topics like contraception and abortion to jobs and the economy. But these political advisors don’t give women enough credit. Because we know that reproductive rights and the economy are linked.

New research form the National Bureau of Economic Research outlines how access to contraception helps close the wage gap. When women have access to contraception and resources for family planning, they, as well as their spouses, can make informed decisions about education, career, family, and how to best manage all three. This knocks down barriers for women in the workplace and eliminates the excuses that fuel much of the biases against women at work.

Women make up half the workforce and all eyes are on us through November. Now is the time to enlist the support of our elected officials to move family-friendly legislation forward. It’s good for women. It’s good for our families. And it’s good for the economy.

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