Almost 50 years ago, on June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act prohibiting arbitrary discrimination against women in payment of wages. Today, equal pay is not just a woman’s issue but an issue affecting all of us and most importantly, the economy. In 1963, women earned 60 cents on average for every dollar a man earned. Today, with women earning 77 cents to a man’s dollar, the dream of equal pay for women continues despite more women in the workplace than ever before. Sadly, many women do not even know they are being paid less than their male counter parts. And even sadder, many men refuse to believe that women earn less.
With the loss of equal pay for women amounting to approximately $11,000 lost income per year, the sagging economy is affected by that loss. If we equalize pay, a woman could earn tens of thousands of dollars more and by the time she reaches age 65, should earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more. This is not pie in the sky but a reality for many women. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was named, lost approximately $224,000 in salary due to gender based discrimination over 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.
The estimated additional $11,000 a year in income to women would save some houses from foreclosure, as 1 in 45 households defaulted on a mortgage in 2010. The difference would feed a family of 4 for a year with some money to spare. With many families now participating in the Food Stamp program, the lost wages would make up the difference. And the $11,000 less per year gap widens even further with African American women who make only 62 cents and Latinas, making only 53 cents, for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic male.
If Lilly Ledbetter lost $224,000 in wages due to the discriminatory gender gap, imagine how much is lost by the millions of Lilly Ledbetters across the country. The discriminatory practice of paying a women less for the same job, skill, education and performance level as a man not only hurts the pocketbooks of women and their families but affects our overall economy. Instead of Congress and the Senate thinking of ways to cut necessary services, they should be looking to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to help the economy.
The Paycheck Fairness Act builds upon the Equal Pay Act signed by President Kennedy in 1963. One of the things the Act would do is prohibit the punishment of employees who voluntarily share their salary information with co-workers. Most importantly, the Paycheck Fairness Act will help grow the economy. And the economy needs all the help and growing it can get these days.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer and legal and political commentator. She is frequently seen in the media speaking on issues affecting women and African Americans. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of PA.