Democrats used the observance of Equal Pay Day on Tuesday to prod Senate action on stalled legislation designed to update the nearly-50-year-old Equal Pay Act.
Although the Equal Pay Act was to provide wage parity, women continue to earn, on average, just 78 cents for every dollar made by men. The observance of Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into 2010 women must work to earn what men earned in 2009.
“Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing that the fight for equal pay continues in the year 2010. It’s hard to find anyone who will say, on the record, that women don’t deserve to earn the same as men,” Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) says in a blog post to observe the occasion.
Although Democrats noted that the first law President Obama signed after his inauguration last year was a law to make it easier for women to sue for wage discrimination, they also urge the Senate to approve the the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), which supporters describe as the first comprehensive update of the Equal Pay Act by closing loopholes in the earlier legislation, creating stronger incentives for employers to follow the law and strengthening federal enforcement efforts.
Dodd is among the proponents of the PFA, which last year passed the House and still awaits action in the Senate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the measure in March.
“I’ve co-sponsored the PFA for the last seven Congresses, and although I’m retiring this year, there are plenty of Senators ready to keep the fight going,” Dodd says. “But we shouldn’t have to. It’s 2010 already, for pete’s sake. We should get this done.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) also urged Senate action on the PFA by saying, “This legislation will give more women jobs and more women equal pay for the jobs they have.”
Dodd and other backers of the bill say the need for enactment of the PFA is not simply a matter of fairness toward women, but an economic imperative. “In America today, women now make up half of the workforce, and two-thirds of women are either the sole breadwinner or co-breadwinner in their family,” says Dodd’s home-state colleague, Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro.
DeLauro testified in favor of the PFA at that March HELP Committee hearing, where she called the PFA “a modest, commonsense reform that closes numerous longstanding loopholes in the Equal Pay Act.”
She says that women of color are even worse off – African American women make 68 cents on the dollar compared to the highest earners, while Hispanic women make only 57 cents. And unmarried women have an average household salary that is almost $12,000 lower than unmarried men, DeLauro says.
DeLauro adds that it “is no coincidence that 70 percent of older adults living in poverty are women.”
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis also called for enactment of the PFA.
“As women hold nearly half of this nation’s jobs, their earnings have become even more central to families’ economic well-being,” Solis says. “Pay equity is not simply a question of fairness; it is an economic imperative with serious implications not just for women, but for communities and the nation’s economic recovery. My vision of ‘good jobs for everyone’ includes increasing incomes, eliminating wage and income inequality, and helping workers who are in low-wage jobs find a path into the middle class.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.