In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, the daunting and complicated task of distributing victim compensation began to take shape. The compensation plan, as it was originally proposed, was based on outdated government formulas which assumed that women victims would have worked for less of their lives than their male counterparts. In effect, the proposed system of compensation was providing less for the families of women victims simply because they were the families of women victims.
It was a sobering reminder of how institutionalized gender discrimination can be. This isn't from a history book - it is not an example of how difficult it was for women of our grandmothers' generation. This is an example of how women as young as our daughters, in this decade, are still facing the same obstacles we vowed to eradicate. I am proud to have successfully fought for equal compensation after September 11th, but know that there are many battles yet to be won.
Today is Equal Pay Day; the day that symbolizes how far into the year that the average full-time working woman must work to earn as much as the average full-time working man earned the previous year. Women earn just 78 cents on the dollar as compared to their male counterparts. While we've made great progress in closing the gap between men's and women's wages since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, considerable work remains.
The federal government should be a model employer, but a GAO report released today, requested by myself and Senators Harkin and Kennedy, finds that an 11 cent on the dollar gender pay gap remains. 7 cents of that gap cannot be explained away by occupational and educational differences. In other words, it appears that even in the federal government, discrimination against women in the workforce persists.
Unfortunately, the findings in this report are not unexpected. Prejudices against working women take all shapes and forms. A GAO study I requested in 2003 confirmed that men with children earn about 2 percent more than men without children, while women with children earn about 2.5 percent less than women without children. So fathers enjoy a bonus, while mothers pay a penalty for their choices.
The impact of the wage gap is particularly painful in our current economic downturn as families struggle to make ends meet in the face of stagnant wages and job losses. Women make up more than 46 percent of the workforce and, as the number of working women continues to grow, so does the number of families reliant solely on the salaries of women. Since the recession began in December 2007, 3.7 million men have lost their jobs; creating even more families dependant on the smaller pay checks women earn.
The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was an important first step, signaling to women and their families that Congress and President Obama are committed to narrowing the gender pay gap. But additional work on multiple fronts is needed if we are ever to eliminate the gap.
First, we need stronger anti-discrimination legislation to close the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act, of which I am a proud co-sponsor, passed the House earlier this session and awaits Senate action. It's crucial that we get this bill signed into law so that we can erase pay discrimination against women.
By recognizing the persistence of the problem and taking action, we have the opportunity to make next year's Equal Pay Day a celebration of progress.