11/17/2010 01:51 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Continuing the Fight for Pay Equity

Earlier today, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on S. 3772 -- the Paycheck Fairness Act -- by a margin of 58-41.

I am deeply disappointed that the Senate did not pass this important piece of legislation, but the issue of pay equity is far too important to give up. I remain committed to the fight for this commonsense reform, and my department will redouble its efforts to ensure America's women are not treated as second-class citizens by employers who refuse to compensate them in a fair and equitable manner.

While the Senate fell short of the mark today, it is important to note that the Paycheck Fairness Act was approved by the House of Representatives almost two years ago. The bill was specifically designed to address the persistent gap between men's and women's wages. It tackles that challenge by enhancing enforcement and by closing loopholes in the 47-year-old Equal Pay Act.

Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the issue of women's pay has grown even more serious. Today, women are the sole or co-wage earner in two-thirds of American households. And, for a growing number of families, equal pay for women is not just a matter of principle. It is a matter of survival.

Despite decades of efforts since 1963, the wage gap has narrowed from 59 cents for each dollar a man makes to a still unbelievably paltry 77 cents in 2010. It is equally shocking that the gap has closed only five cents in the past 20 years. At that pace, it will take almost 100 more years for women to achieve pay equity. The situation is even worse for women of color. In fact, today, African-American women make 69 cents for every dollar made by a man. Latinas make just 60 cents.

When women first start working, the wage gap is usually small, and some groups of women have earnings on par with men. However, the gap grows substantially as men and women progress in their careers. Men get larger raises and promotions. And, even when women keep pace with promotions, they still fall behind in pay. That has major long-term economic implications. By the age of 65, the typical full-time working woman has about $365,000 less in earnings relative to a full-time working man. This gap in earnings follows women into retirement, resulting in smaller pensions and lower Social Security.

As President Obama has said, "Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue -- it's a family issue... And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month's paychecks to simple discrimination."

As a nation, we must continue to pursue pay equity with passion and determination. We owe it to women in America -- those of years past, who worked so hard to build our country; those who carry that task on today; and, certainly, those who will shape our future in the workplace of tomorrow.

This post also appears on the Department of Labor Blog.