June 6, 2012
Equal pay for equal work? Not yet
Elected leaders failed working women and families yesterday.
A proposed bill to help equalize women's pay to that of their male counterparts was struck down by Republicans in the U.S. Senate Tuesday, failing to proceed to debate after a 52-47 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.
The Paycheck Fairness Act was not a panacea, but it would certainly have advanced women's earning power and closed an unacceptable gap at a time when fair pay is needed more than ever.
Nearly half of U.S. workers are women, and women tend to hold lower-paying jobs than men. But even when they hold the same job and the same level of experience as men, they earn substantially less.
Overall, women make 77 cents to a man's dollar, and the gap is even larger for minorities and for women in some professions, especially high-paying ones. Women CEOs earn 69 percent of what their male counterparts earn.
Even when life choices and time out of the workforce to have children are accounted for, women still earn a significant chunk less than their male counterparts do.
Shocking, but not surprising. It makes me wonder how many times in my life I have unknowingly been dinged well-deserved pay because I'm a woman.
Is it happening to me right now?
The pay gap between men and women is big enough to equal an entire household income for some families in America. Over the course of a woman's career, that disparity adds up to more than $430,000 in lost wages for an individual woman. Enough for full college tuition several times over. Enough to make the difference between a life lived paycheck to paycheck and a life with the comfort of a nest egg, a paid-for home and retirement security.
Because of the pay gap, women are less likely to be able to afford good housing, food, child care, education and health care for themselves and their families. Their children are more likely to struggle and to live in poverty.
This is not just their problem. This is our problem.
That is where the Paycheck Fairness Act came in. The act would help close the gap by requiring employers to show that wage discrepancies aren't based on gender and give women new legal protections when suing over pay disparity.
Women, who are the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of families, need these protections and equality. Families need it. The economy needs it.
Supporters had been trying to pass a version of the act for years. The last time it came up for a vote, Senate Republicans voted unanimously against it. (Maybe their wives don't work, or maybe it doesn't matter to them if the grocery money is a few apples short of a fair deal.)
This time around, the White House and Capitol Hill Democrats launched a PR effort to boost support and put the onus on Republicans to explain why they don't support equal pay for women. President Obama supported the act, saying he wanted to ensure that "hard work pays off."
Opponents said the act was unfair to employers, said it would harm business and complained that it didn't put a cap on punitive damages. They also argued that female employees already have enough protections under existing laws such as the Lilly Ledbetter law, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney remained silent about his position.
The act never even made it past its prologue Tuesday, but there's no doubt this issue hasn't gone away and will simmer on toward the fall election.
In a year in which candidates are battling hard for women's votes, it is unfortunate that the effort to equalize pay has to become just another political match to the fire raging between Democrats and conservatives.
Like so many other so-called women's issues, it's true that the issue of fair pay regardless of gender is too easily co-opted as fuel.
Still, opponents can scream "political device" all they want, but I have to go back to the numbers -- that glaring 23-cent difference. Obviously, existing protections, while important, haven't done enough. Aren't doing enough.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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