Still unfair after 50 years: The Equal Pay Act isn't doing its job

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Imagine you're the proud parent of twins graduating from college. Your daughter is getting good grades, plays on an athletic team and has taken advantage of summer internships. Your son is getting slightly lower grades, played on a team and did two summer internships. Both students owe more than $30,000 in student loans. The twins have had equal opportunities at this point in their lives, a loving and supportive home and good educations, but things will soon change. The data show that your son will earn more than your daughter -- on average 18 percent annually, or a total of $500,000 more over his lifetime.

"Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation," a 2012 study by the American Association of University Women, focuses on wages paid to women and men college graduates. The AAUW study controlled for a number of factors, including college majors, hours worked, the selectivity of colleges attended, grade-point averages and jobs held. Researchers determined that a 7 percent wage gap exists between female and male workers one year after college graduation, even when their resumes are identical.

For example, one year out of college, women with business majors averaged $38,000 annually, while men with the same degree earned $45,000. The twins owe an equal amount on college loans, but your daughter will spend a significantly higher percentage of her income paying off her loans. It will be harder for her to buy a home, get married and to start a family. Is this fair?

Among all women working full time in 2011, women were paid 77 cents on average for every dollar paid to men, according to national statistics. The wage gap is even larger among African-American women, who were paid an average of 68 percent that of white men. And there's even more disparity for Hispanic and Latina women. They earned 59 percent.

In my 19th Congressional District of Pennsylvania (based on the composition of the district in the 112th Congress), the figure is even worse, with women working full time being paid an average of 72 percent of what men earned. All of these numbers are particularly worrisome because although the wage gap narrowed in the 1970s, it has been stuck at 77 percent nationally for a decade.

Today, June 10, the Equal Pay Act celebrates its 50th anniversary, but women aren't celebrating. The Equal Pay Act, with its goal of closing the wage gap, may have been trendsetting for its time, but things have changed. The Equal Pay Act isn't doing its job. It's past time to close the loopholes and update this outdated legislation by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Since the Equal Pay Act was made law, a social revolution has taken place. Women no longer work for "pin money" or "to get out of the house." Women are an essential part of every facet of every economic sector. The majority of women are in the workforce, and in six out of 10 families, women are either primary wage earner or co-wage earner. After 50 years, the Equal Pay Act needs an update.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would modernize the Equal Pay Act in major ways. It would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who disclose their wages to co-workers. As it is now, workers can be harshly disciplined or even fired for disclosing information about their salaries. The Paycheck Fairness Act would give workers the information they need to end unequal pay practices and bring pay discrimination legislation into line with other civil rights legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

It's time to recognize the economic realities of the 21st century and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Employers and elected officials must realize that women aren't spending their money on trinkets and trifles but are paying off college loans and supporting their families. Think of those twins with identical resumes. It's time to end gender discrimination by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. It's a matter of justice.

opinion_commentary

Betty Hooker is a member of the American Association of University Women, York Branch, and co-chair of public policy for AAUW of Pennsylvania.


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