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50 Years After the Equal Pay Act, Women Are Still Fighting for Equality

The hard truth is that, 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, pay discrimination is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange American women and their families.
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Sara*, a veteran of the armed forces, worked her way up from secretary to sales representative for a construction supply company. After winning more than $1 million in contracts for her employer, she was surprised that she hadn't received a commission like her male co-workers. When she asked her supervisor about it, he told her she would get no commission.

The hard truth is that, 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, pay discrimination is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange American women and their families. Women earn less than men in every state and region of the country. And for the first time in many years, the weekly earnings gap is widening for women overall and for women of color at all levels of education and across all occupations.

In real terms, women earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2011 annual earnings. For women of color the gap is even wider -- African-American woman earned only 69 cents and Latinas just 60 cents for every dollar earned by all men in 2011.

There are a number of reasons why a significant pay gap exists. Women and people of color are overrepresented in undervalued and underpaid occupations like child care and home health care workers, and restaurant servers. Family-flexibility for most working mothers is diametrically opposite to that afforded to a few high-profile working mothers like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. There aren't too many women who can afford or are allowed to build a nursery next to their office. And many working women are penalized financially for caregiving because they lack access to basic policies like the right to earn paid sick days and family leave.

Even when working in male dominated fields that pay more like engineering or computer programming, women still earn less. Leisa, an electrical engineer, worked as a contractor for NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Only after she changed jobs did she find out that her male co-worker, with 20 years less experience, was earning $25,000 more than her.

When women are paid less than men, it hurts their families and the economy. Women lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to over a million, over their careers. That means less money to pay for basic expenses like food and utilities, and achieve economic stability for their families. And since women make three-quarters of family purchasing decisions, it means less money is spent in our local communities and economy.

Statistics show that progress on closing the gap has slowed noticeably since the 1980s and early 1990s. Since 2001, the gender pay gap has narrowed by only about one percentage point. At this rate, it will take another 45 years for women to earn as much as men.

To make real advances in closing the gap, we must strengthen enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws and give women the tools they need to get the pay they deserve. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which was first introduced in 2009 and then again in 2010 only to be defeated by a minority of U. S. Senators, would close loopholes in our existing equal pay laws, prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about or share wage information, and empower women to better negotiate salary and benefit increases.

Recently re-introduced in Congress in January 2013, the PFA (S. 84/H.R. 377) would play a critical role in our nation's economic recovery. Every penny counts as working families and the middle class struggle to lift themselves up and out of the economic recession. And since more women are primary family breadwinners or co-breadwinners than ever before, there is an urgent necessity to end wage discrimination now.

While women in combat are fighting overseas for freedom and equality, achieving equal pay for equal work is one war that we shouldn't have to fight for at home. On behalf of 9to5's members and constituents across the country, I urge lawmakers to support the Paycheck Fairness Act and show that you value women's work and contributions to their families and a thriving economy.


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