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Debra L. Ness Headshot

Fighting Discrimination, Giving Women -- and All Workers -- a Fair Shake

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This week, members of the Senate have the opportunity to take a stand on an issue of paramount importance to women and their families: either they will move to help stop gender discrimination in wages, or they will turn their backs on women in the workforce and the families who depend on them. Senators will either vote to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, or to endorse the status quo in which women face a punitive and discriminatory gender-based wage gap that causes grave harm to women, families and our economy.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is common sense legislation aimed at addressing the unacceptable fact that a full-time working woman in the United States is still paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to a full-time working man. In short, it would make it easier to identify and combat wage discrimination, and it would go a long way toward closing a gap that has been punishing women and families for decades.

Closing the wage gap is critical to families' economic security. Nearly 15 million households in this country are headed by women, and nearly 30 percent of those households are living in poverty. Women are the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of families. Yet, due to the wage gap, they are losing more than $10,000 in income every year. That's enough money to pay for nearly two years' worth of groceries, nearly three years' worth of family health insurance premiums, more than a year's worth of rent, or more than 2,700 gallons of gas.

At a time when many families are struggling to get by, the loss of years' worth of basic necessities can be devastating. And it adds up. Over the course of their lifetimes, America's women lose more than $430,000 in critical income due to the wage gap. The punishing long-term effects on them and their families are undeniable.

That's what makes the Paycheck Fairness Act such an important bill for America's families. It would promote basic fairness and equality for women in the workplace, and it would help to ensure that they no longer lose income they need to support their families. And because it's good for families' financial security, it's also good for our economy. Any lawmaker who values families should see this legislation as what it is: modest -- yet powerful -- legislation that is long overdue.

The House of Representatives recognized the need for the Paycheck Fairness Act when it passed it in the 110th and 111th Congresses, but the bill fell two votes short in a procedural Senate vote during the 111th Congress. The Senate vote this week is that same procedural vote on whether to move ahead and consider the bill on its merits.

Opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act and efforts to close the wage gap say that there simply is no gap or that it can be explained away by women's choices. But the truth is that no matter how you look at it, the wage gap exists. Across education levels, occupations, work patterns and other perceived "choices," the data show that women are paid less than men. And at our current rate of "progress," which is painfully slow, it would take four decades for the gap to close if Congress doesn't act.

It's time for all members of Congress to get past the baseless excuses, partisan talking points and rhetoric about valuing families and instead vote for common sense policies that would truly help. The Senate has that chance with the Paycheck Fairness Act. America's women and their families will be watching.

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