Presidents frequently sign a proclamation to note important dates, but President Barack Obama went far beyond a statement of support today. On Equal Pay Day 2014, the president has signed two new executive orders to move women toward equal pay with men.
Both orders are similar to provisions in the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that the Senate is considering this week but the House is pretty sure to ignore:
- Prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share salary information with others.
- Instruct the Department of Labor to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to report wage-related data to the government.
The Senate is considering the Paycheck Fairness Act that would not only include these two provisions for most other employers but also require them to prove that gender differences in pay are based on issues other than sex. In addition, it would strengthen penalties for violations in equal pay.
President Obama began supporting equal pay as soon as he took over the office in January 2009. His first act was to sign an equal pay bill inspired by the SCOTUS decision against Lily Ledbetter, who discovered after 20 years with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. that men in her same job with equal or less experience earned much more money than she did. When she sued, SCOTUS maintained that she had only 180 days from being hired to complain, despite the fact that she didn’t learn about the different wages for 20 years. Congress passed the law that made the 180 days contingent on learning about the inequities.
Equal Pay Day is named for the date each year to show how far women must work into the current year to match the pay that men made the previous year. This year that day is April 8, better than April 18 in 2005, but not as good as April 3 in 1998. In Europe, Equal Pay Day is March 12 this year, showing that European women are closer to equality than we are in the United States.
Fifty years ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reaffirmed the Equal Pay Act, signed by President John F. Kennedy a year earlier on June 10, 1963. That legislation “prohibits discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers,” and the 1964 act prohibits employer discrimination on sex, race, religion, and/or nationality. Yet women who work full time in the U.S. make an average of 77 cents for every dollar men make. Black and Hispanic women make much less, and the disparity is growing. Hispanics currently make 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Even considering factors contributing to the gap such as industry, education, college major, and location, men are still paid 7 percent more than women.
Young women who recently graduated from college earn only 82 percent of the salaries of their recently graduated male counterparts who studied the same majors, completed the same degrees, and entered the same occupations. In 2012, personal care and service work was the only one of 265 major occupations in which women made, on average, more than men.
Lisa Maatz, AAUW Vice President of Government Relations, wrote about the gender pay gap:
- The pay gap hasn‘t budged in a decade.
- Women in every state experience the pay gap, but some states are worse than others—Wyoming at the bottom with women paid 64 percent of what men were paid in 2012.
- The pay gap grows with age, beginning with 90 percent until age 35 and then dropping.
- The pay gap also exists among women without children.
Republicans argue that the issue is a distraction and that the proposed legislative solution is unnecessary. Texas Gov. Rick Perry used this argument when he appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, calling the debate in the state governor’s race “nonsense,” saying the Democrats should focus on “substantive issues.” The gubernatorial candidates are Perry’s friend, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and the woman who filibustered against abortion restrictions for 11 hours, state Sen. Wendy Davis. Perry is considering another presidential run in 2016.
To protect Texas retailers, Perry vetoed a bill last year to allow victims of wage discrimination to sue in state court. The Texas Retailers Association and the Texas Association of business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses secretly requested the gubernatorial veto. The bill would have benefited people in the state because they would have easier access and less expense in state courts. Retailers objected to including retirement checks that weren’t included in the bill.
Also ignoring women voters, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, asked what the Paycheck Fairness Act would do for men.
Conservatives use a variety of arguments in their attempts trying to show that there is no pay inequality between men and women: different career paths, more overtime in male-dominated blue-collar work, fewer hours worked by women. These arguments don’t consider the research in pay difference when both men and women with the same skills work the same jobs for the same number of hours and in the same conditions. Women are also punished if they ask about wage differences, keeping them from trying to get equal pay.
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly called unequal gender pay a “meme,” and Dana Loesch said it is a “myth.” Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is struggling with re-election as Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin forces him to the right, calls gender equality in pay a “bizarre obsession.” McConnell will likely win the primary in a few weeks, but then he’s up against Alison Lundergan Grimes.
McConnell already voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2010 which doesn’t fit well with his statement that he’s always supported women. His record says otherwise as he voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and against renewing the Violence against Women Act in 2013. In Kentucky, women make only 72 cents for every man’s dollar. Luckily for McConnell he’s raking in the donations, even from dead people.
In addition to claiming that equal pay would be a “burden” on employers, the GOP talking point is that Democrats didn’t bother to do anything about it when they had a majority in both chambers of Congress and the presidency. The statement is wrong, either through ignorance or lying. When the Dems brought up the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2010, it passed with House, then controlled by the Democrats, although 97 percent of the GOP voted against it. In the Senate, the bill got only 58 votes, two votes short of the new “majority” of 100 senators because of the filibuster. The Democrats tried again in 2012, but failed. This week if the Senate passes the Paycheck Fairness Act again, the GOP-controlled House needs only one person to vote it down—Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) when he refuses to bring it to the chamber.
If women earned equal pay for equal work, the country’s economy would boost GDP by 2.9 percent or almost $450 billion and cut the poverty rate in half for working women.
The next time a person says, “We’re all for equal pay,” ask them why they don’t vote for it. If they say that women already have legal pay, ask them why they’re fighting a bill if it’s not any problem.