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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Headshot

Equal Pay Is About Economic Security For Middle Class Families

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I was disheartened to hear Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin recently signed a law that repealed Wisconsin's Fair Pay Act. This commonsense piece of legislation, like the Lilly Ledbetter Act signed into law by President Obama in 2009, was designed to make it easier for victims of wage discrimination to pursue compensatory damages. The law was meant to deter employers from paying certain workers less for equal work, and to put us on a path toward pay equity in this country.

It's unfortunate that Governor Walker saw fit to roll back these protections.

The fact is, with the economy still in a fragile state, women need more economic security, not less. In Wisconsin, women make just 75 cents on the dollar for what men make, in New York, women make just 83 cents, and nationally that figure is 77 cents. If you're an African American woman, you are earning 62 cents on the dollar, and if you are a Latina, only 54 cents on that dollar. This is unacceptable.

But the issue of pay equity is not merely one of fairness. Equal pay for equal work is vital for our economic growth and middle class financial security. With more and more women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle class working families -- men and children included. In New York alone, women head more than 1,000,000 households. It's estimated that because of the wage gap, New York families are deprived of $8,600 a year. Nationwide, it's been estimated that if women were paid a dollar on the dollar for equal work, the U.S. GDP could grow up to 9 percent.

In addition to being an economic security issue, the failure to pay women a salary that's equal to men for equal work is also a women's health issue. The fact is that the salary women are paid directly impacts the type of health care services they are able to access for both themselves and their families. For example, if we closed the wage gap, a working woman in New York would be able to afford more than two years worth of additional family health insurance premiums. At a time when women's health services are increasingly vulnerable to budget cuts, it's more important than ever that women have financial security to maintain access to basic care for them and their families.

Empowering women in the workforce is a key to growing the economy and having a thriving middle class.

To achieve this goal we must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which I'm proud to co-sponsor in the U.S. Senate. This bill would amend the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to offer more protections for women in the workforce. Since 1970, we've been able to steadily shrink the wage gap in this country, but in recent years that progress has stalled. We need Congress to act so we can unleash the full economic potential of women and get our economy back on track.

Today, April 17, is Equal Pay Day, the day in the year marking how much longer women would have to work to earn what men earned in 2011. Let's pledge to make sure that this day continues to move earlier and earlier in the year until women don't have to work even one day more than men to earn the same wage.