On January 29, 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Lilly Ledbetter Act extended the statute of limitations for women and men to file claims of employment discrimination—even years later. But in order to bridge the gender pay gap—where women on average in this country earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns with the same education and for doing the same job, we must go beyond Lilly Ledbetter. African American women earn 64 cents for every dollar a man earns. Latino women earn 56 cents to the dollar a man earns. These figures are for women in all jobs and educational levels. The disparity in pay begins for college educated women immediately after graduation. Post graduate women fare no better than their less educated counter parts.
“The Paycheck Fairness Act would help erase this harmful wage gap by ensuring that employers provide equal pay for those doing the same work,” said American Association of University Women (“AAUW”) Executive Director Linda D. Hallman. If we equalize pay, a woman could earn by the time she reaches age 65, hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was named, lost approximately $224,000 in salary due to gender based discrimination over the course of her working years. That is money the employer saved on her. It is also money that the state government lost in taxable income.
The issue of discriminatory gender wage differential is not just about women earning less than men but millions of dollars that are not invested in our economy. The tax base for our communities and spending power is diminished by lost income due to discrimination against women. By stripping women of their full paycheck earnings, states lose tax revenues. If a woman earns less, she pays less in taxes. In a time when state and cities’ finances are suffering and drastic cuts to necessary services are being made, the lost taxes on lost wages from women could help make up some of the shortfall. Undoubtedly, the lost wages for women would help increase revenue to state finance coffers through extra sales taxes from items purchased with the additional income.
And another piece of critical needed legislation to compliment the Lilly Ledbetter fair Pay Act is the Fair Pay Act. It differs from the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter law. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), addresses another piece of the equal pay puzzle by addressing the historic pattern of underpaying so-called “women’s work” that is equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions to male-dominated jobs. “It makes no sense, for example, for a janitor to be paid more than a housekeeper if their working conditions and job descriptions are similar,” says AAUW’s Hallman.
Women’s groups such as AAUW are urging President Obama to also issue an executive order forbidding federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask questions about compensation or share the amount of their own salaries. If these laws had been in effect, Ledbetter may have discovered the discrimination against her decades earlier,” says AAUW’s Lisa Maatz. “Instead, Goodyear policy legally stopped its employees from sharing salary information under the threat of dismissal if they did so.” This executive order would address, in part, one section of the Paycheck Fairness Act, protecting nearly a quarter of the federal civilian workforce despite congressional gridlock.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in honoring the four-year anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will also push for its necessary companion legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act.
—Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.