A renewed push for equal pay

Since the Equal Pay Act became law in 1963, women have made gains as the gap has closed between what they and men earn working at comparable jobs.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the early ’60s women made an average of about 60 cents for every dollar men earned. By 2013, that ratio had increased to 78 cents on the dollar. At that rate of improvement, women need only wait 43 years, until 2058, for their pay to match their male co-workers who perform similar tasks.

You’ve come a long way, as the cigarette slogan used to go. But you’ve got a long way yet ahead.

Legislation reintroduced this week by Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would bolster the Equal Pay Act and allow that gap to close more quickly.

The legislation would:

Require employers to show that pay disparities among male and female employees were related to the job and its performance and not gender;

Allow coworkers to share salary information with each other without fear of retaliation by employers;

Allow women to file suit for back pay and punitive damages for pay discrimination;

Establish a grant program for courses that would train women in salary negotiation and other workplace skills; and

Require the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training for employers to eliminate pay disparities.

The Paycheck Fairness Act makes sense not simply because it’s a matter of basic fairness; the job and how well it’s performed is what should matter to an employer. It also makes sense for the good it can do for our economy.

Analysis prepared for The Shriver’s Report, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” showed that nearly 60 percent of women would see a pay increase if they were paid the same as men of a similar age, educational background and hours worked.

The poverty rate for working women, the report found, would be cut in half, to 3.9 percent from 8.1 percent. Likewise the poverty rate for working single mothers would also fall to 15 percent from the current 28.7 percent.

The total increase in women’s earnings, assuming pay were equal, would represent more than 14 times what state and federal governments spent in 2012 on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the report also found.

The end result for our nation’s economy: Had pay been equal in 2012, it would have amounted to an additional $447.6 billion, 2.9 percent of that year’s gross domestic product.

Similar legislation last year in the Senate was blocked twice by Republicans, most recently in September when the bill failed to get the 60 votes in needed to advance; it failed with 52 senators supporting, 40 against. Republicans dismissed the legislation as a “show vote,” meant only to play to the Democratic base before the November election.

It doesn’t have to be viewed as such. Support of a basic bit of fairness — equal pay for equal work — especially one with such an economic upside, would go a long way toward disproving the allegation of a Republican “war on women.”

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