Both major political parties have said they support equal pay for equal work for women, yet the gender pay gap has barely budged in a decade. The new Congress has an opportunity to overcome the longstanding gridlock and better the lives of America's working families. Will they take it?
History has shown us that bipartisan action on equal pay can happen. Just six years ago on January 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the bipartisan Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Lilly's namesake law restored the long-standing interpretation of civil rights laws -- which had been undone by a bad U.S. Supreme Court decision -- to allow employees to challenge each and every discriminatory paycheck. But this law provides just one of the critical tools needed in the fight for fair pay.
In a more recent example of the power of bipartisan work on equal pay, New Hampshire Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass legislation similar to the long-stalled federal Paycheck Fairness Act, another of the tools American families need. Bipartisan action on equal pay is not only possible -- but also the smart thing for Congress to do.
First, polls show that voters care about equal pay. That alone is reason enough for Democrats and Republicans to put their heads together to figure out a legislative path forward. With the 2016 election already on everyone's minds, neither party can afford to ignore voters' concerns.
Second, indisputable evidence shows that the pay gap exists and that it harms working families. AAUW's own research reveals that college-educated women earn 7 percent less than their male peers just one year out of school, even when they have the same major and occupation and after controlling for factors such as parenthood and hours worked. The gap grows as people become parents. Studies have detailed the financial boost that dads receive when they have children, yet mothers' earnings decrease. The pay gap also doesn't affect all women equally. Most women of color face a much wider pay gap.
Third, if we don't pass legislation to help close the gender pay gap, it won't close in our lifetimes. Let that sink in: At the recent rate of progress, the gap won't fully close for another 124 years, until 2139. Congress needs to make change now -- or doom future generations to the endless struggle of making ends meet when you're not receiving an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.
Finally, closing the gender pay gap would help our economy. The U.S. economy would have produced an additional $447.6 billion in income if women received equal pay. That's a big chunk of change that could further fuel our economic recovery. Closing the gender pay gap is good for all of us.
In the president's January 20 State of the Union address, he urged Congress to act on equal pay, a call to action that resonated with those watching. It's time to hold Congress' feet to the fire. After all, congressional Democrats are on the record in support of equal pay, and the Republican National Committee publicly announced in September that all Republicans support equal pay.
Members of Congress, don't just say you support equal pay and then use gridlock as an excuse for continued inaction. It's time to walk the walk. Seize this broad public and political support as an opportunity to come together and move forward on one of the most fundamental economic issues of our time. Families are tired of waiting.