09/17/2010 04:36 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Families Cannot Afford to Wait: Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act Now

New poverty and wage data released yesterday paint a grim picture of the economic prospects for American families dependent on women wage earners. Yesterday's new data show that more than half a million, or more than one in ten, single mothers working full-time, year-round jobs lived in poverty in 2009. Poverty rates are even higher among African-American and Hispanic single-mothers working full-time, of which nearly 17 and 19 percent, respectively, lived in poverty. Moreover, two-parent families are increasingly dependent on women as sole wage earners because so many men have lost their jobs in the economic downturn. We have known for some time that the number of married couples with children who depend exclusively on women's earnings rose to 1.9 million in 2009, more than a 36 percent annual increase as compared to a 5 percent increase from 2007 to 2008.

Unfortunately, yesterday's data show that women in full-time jobs can expect to bring home far fewer dollars than their male counterparts. On average, a woman who works year-round in a full-time job makes 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The wage gap grows even wider when we look at the numbers for women of color: African-American women earn 62 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, while Hispanic women earn only 53 cents. These disparities translate into an earnings gap of $10,849 per year. That's not pocket change--it's a serious discount on women's paychecks and money that families need to pay for basic necessities such as groceries, child care, rent and health insurance.

Women and their families cannot afford to be shortchanged, especially in these tough economic times. That's why it's so critical that the Senate moves quickly to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act would help correct the effects of discriminatory pay practices by providing a much-needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. First, it protects workers who share their own salary information from retaliation by their employers. Second, it makes employers more accountable for showing that pay differentials are not based on gender discrimination and serve a legitimate business purpose. It also brings the remedies available under the Equal Pay Act into line with those available under other civil rights laws.

The House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act in January 2009. The Senate now has only a small window of time to deal with the nation's business before heading home, and its "To Do" list is long. We cannot let this moment pass. It is time for the Senate to stand up for women and their families and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.