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Linda Hallman

Linda Hallman

Posted: September 5, 2010 03:38 PM

For the 128th time in our nation's history, we celebrate Labor Day -- with last visits to the neighborhood pool, picnics, and barbecues that signal the end of summer. Yet for women and their families, recognition of the American worker rings rather hollow in the face of pay inequity.

That's because women across the country work just as hard their male counterparts do, yet they continue to receive less pay -- just 77 cents on the dollar, on average. A day off is not the only compensation American women require or deserve; without equal pay, our Labor Day celebrations don't ring true for many.

The 23-cent average difference between men's and women's pay isn't simply about fairness. This long-standing pay disparity hurts our nation, too. With women increasingly assuming the role of sole breadwinner, equal pay is not just a matter of equity but the key to a family's ability to make ends meet in a struggling economy and a critical factor in our nation's efforts to work its way out of this recession. This serious problem needs immediate Senate action.

That Senate action is passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182), a bill that will provide a sorely needed update to the 1963 Equal Pay Act and help create a climate where pay discrimination isn't tolerated. This critical bill, which passed the House in January 2009, will close loopholes and strengthen incentives to prevent pay discrimination, as well as bring the Equal Pay Act's practices in line with other civil rights laws.

Fortunately, support for the Paycheck Fairness Act is growing. So are the number of co-sponsors of the bill. In a recent poll by the Paycheck Fairness Act Coalition, 84 percent of American voters expressed support for this new law to create more avenues for women to receive fair wages. President Barack Obama is also on board, having co-sponsored the bill as a senator. He has promised to sign the bill into law, calling the Paycheck Fairness Act a "common-sense bill." In fact, passage of the bill is one of the key recommendations of his administration's Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, which he announced in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

We are closer than we have ever been to seeing this critical legislation enacted, which is why for the past three weeks AAUW members and coalition partners around the nation have been pushing hard to raise awareness about the pressing need for the Paycheck Fairness Act. We have hosted "Get It Done" (un)happy hours, sent letters to our senators, encouraged the men in our lives and families to speak up for fair pay (this is not a woman's issue--it's a family issue!), and used social media tools to get the message out.

Pay discrimination starts early -- "the minute college grads throw their caps in the air," as one economist observed. Research shows that over a 35-year career, the pay inequity shortfall in women's earnings is about $210,000. While September 2 headlines about young, educated, childless women making more than men show that we are making progress, such studies also underscore the ongoing reality of pay discrimination. While the average American woman still earns 23 percent less than her male counterpart does, the gap is biggest among older women and smallest among younger women. Further, much of the improvement in the gender pay gap has not been the result of women's pay increases but rather is due to men's decreasing or stagnating wages in traditional jobs that don't require a college degree, such as construction and manufacturing. That situation helps no one, least of all American families.

Earlier this year, AAUW and the National Partnership for Women and Families released some startling facts. In California, the nation's most populous state, we learned that without the pay gap, working women and their families in that state could afford

  • 54 more weeks of food bills (one year's worth!),
  • Three more months of mortgage and utilities payments,
  • Six more months of rent,
  • Two more years of family health insurance premiums, and
  • 2,000 additional gallons of gas.

It's now up to the U.S. Senate to do the right thing for American families. It's time for swift action on the Paycheck Fairness Act. If a vote on this bill is delayed until next year with a new Congress, we're back to square one. The recovery of the American middle class begins and ends with well-paying jobs, but that can't happen if women continue to earn less than they deserve for equal work.

As we honor our nation's workers this Labor Day, what better way to laud them than to pay workers equally, regardless of gender? Help us convince the Senate to bring this bill up for a vote and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this month.

American families have waited long enough.