10/29/2010 10:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Paycheck Fairness Act: More Than Pocket Change Is at Stake

After the crash, the downturn was dubbed a "mancession." As the meme continues to circulate, the Roosevelt Institute's New Deal 2.0 blog asked leading thinkers to help sort fact from fiction. Are men suffering more than women in a weak economy? Is Washington doing enough to address female unemployment? How do we ensure a jobs agenda that's fair and equitable? In the fifth part of an ongoing series, "The Myth of the Mancession? Women & the Jobs Crisis", Fatima Goss Graves explains why the recession makes Congressional action on equal pay urgent.

Last month, the Census Bureau released data that show that the gender wage gap is stagnant. In 2009, women who worked full-time, year-round made 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This 23 percent gap in wages represented no change from the prior year. The wage gap for women of color was even more staggering than for women overall. In 2009, Black and Hispanic women only made 62 and 53 cents, respectively, for every dollar made by white, non-Hispanic males. Women and their families cannot sustain a wage gap this deep in this economy. The nearly $11,000 per year in lost earnings is far more than pocket change -- these shortchanged wages could pay for key items such as rent, utilities, child care or health insurance premiums.

There is no doubt that more is necessary both to strengthen equal pay laws, which have been weakened over time in the courts, and to require the federal government to be more proactive in preventing and battling wage discrimination. And when Congress returns for the lame duck session, one of the first measures it will take up is the Paycheck Fairness Act. In fact, the vote could occur as soon as the week of November 15th.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has already passed the House of Representatives, builds upon the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. The Act would update the Equal Pay Act and close major loopholes that have prevented it from being effective. For example:

• The Act would prohibit employer retaliation against employees for sharing salary information with their coworkers -- a change that will greatly enhance employees' ability to learn about wage disparities and to evaluate whether they are experiencing wage discrimination.

• The Act would improve Equal Pay Act remedies by allowing prevailing plaintiffs to obtain a full range of remedies for pay discrimination.

• The Act would close loopholes by clarifying that gender disparities in pay within a company need not be within the same facility to count as discrimination. It would also tighten the rules concerning the defense of a gendered pay differential that employers claim is not due to sex.

• The Act would also require the Federal Government to take proactive steps to address wage discrimination. This would include providing for increased training for EEOC employees to help them respond to wage discrimination claims and enhancing EEOC and Department of Labor information on pay practices and ways to eliminate gender-based pay disparities.

Congress will be back for less than two months for the lame duck session, and it is critical that it get this done. In these times, no worker -- indeed, no family -- can afford to have wages arbitrarily lowered by discrimination.

Cross-posted from New Deal 2.0.