Proponents see the Paycheck Fairness Act as the logical follow-up to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which holds the distinction of being the first bill Obama signed into law. Ledbetter allows an individual to file a pay discrimination lawsuit beyond the 180-day statute of limitations established in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, essentially providing those who felt cheated with greater access to the courts.
The Paycheck Fairness Act seeks to strengthen and extend the provisions contained in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the first law that declared it illegal for women to be paid less than men for performing the same job.
Regardless, proponents of the Mikulski bill insist that inequities persist. A research paper released in October 2012 by the American Association of University Women, “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” determined that women receive 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts in their first year after college. The report also maintains women are paid 7 percent less than men even when they work in the same job, major in the same field, and work the same number of hours per week.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) reported that as a result of unequal pay practices a woman loses an average of $400,000 over a lifetime of work.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Congress “must commit to passing the Paycheck Fairness Act now to take another major step in ensuring equal pay for equal work.”
“Today, women are paid only 77 cents to every dollar made by men,” Schakowsky said. “And for women of color, that number falls even lower. African-American women receive 68 cents and Hispanic women 59 cents to every dollar earned by men. This pay disparity not only affects women during their careers, but follows them into retirement as they receive lower pensions and Social Security benefits based on receiving lower wages than they deserved.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is among a host of progressive groups pressing for the measure.
“Fifty years after the signing of the Equal Pay Act, unacceptable disparities in what men and women earn for the same work persists,” said Deborah J. Vagins, co-chair of the National Paycheck Fairness Coalition. “In addition, many workers can still be fired for asking about their wages at work.”
The act, Vagins said, “would give workers the help they need to be treated fairly, including strengthening remedies for discrimination against women and protecting employees’ jobs when they seek information about their wages. If you don’t know about discrimination, you can’t do anything about it. This ongoing injustice is particularly troubling when you consider that nearly 40 percent of women are primary breadwinners in their households.”