The Pay Check Fairness Act, introduced to make a woman’s pay equal to a man’s for same job and same qualifications, seems like it would be easy to get passed. The purpose is to close the loop holes and allow women to be on the same pay playing field as men. The bill comes up for a cloture vote on Tuesday, June 5. It will be a test of the Republicans’ effort on cooperation since last week’s jobs reports. While many Republicans will say that this is not an economic issue, nothing is farther from the truth.
Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job and same skills. And 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. As a lawyer, I know firsthand that women earn less than their male counterparts for the exact same job in the private sector. It’s less affected in the public sector because most workers know wage information. Whether it’s deliberate or indifference as the reason, the outcome is the same.
Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act is good for the economy. With the loss of equal pay for women amounting to approximately $11,000 income per year, the sagging economy is affected by that loss. 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 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. And remember that 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.
The difference in lost pay 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. With many women working while their spouses are unemployed or deployed oversees, it’s as much an issue for men as women. 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.
The Paycheck Fairness Act will allow women to sue for punitive damages and not merely for back pay lost as under Lilly Ledbetter Act. It will also prohibit employers from retaliating against women who file suit. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act not only makes fundamental fairness sense, it makes good economic sense for women and men. Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act now.
Post Script: The Senate vote failed to pass the Act 52-47.
“This was a missed opportunity for the Senate to do the right thing for women and the nation,” said AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, CAE. “When women are paid less, it hurts them and their families, and it undermines the U.S. economy. How lawmakers can turn down this commonsense economic policy is truly a mystery.”
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post.