Equal Pay for Equal Work

women gradThe Paycheck Fairness Act has been presented before the House of Representatives and Congress three times from 2009 -2014, each failing to get the required number of votes to get a filibuster in the US Senate. With the bills reintroduction in 2014, there was no support from Republicans who stated that the bills recent reappearance was nothing more than a Democratic ploy to gain female voters in the upcoming election. While this issue may be viewed as a political tactic depending on whom you ask regarding it, it doesn’t change the fact that the issue of unequal wages between the male and female sex has yet to be resolved despite past legislation outlawing pay discrimination. The recent revision of the original Paycheck Fairness Act was intended to expand the capacity of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which both address requirements and practices in the workplace, but there is still much debate on whether these laws need this new legislation. Those in opposition of this bill feel that the current laws do well to discourage gender discrimination and that the statistics used to direct interest towards this issue by supporters do not take into consideration all factors regarding a women’s employment. By contrast, supporters of this bill feel that the current laws do not adequately protect women enough from discriminatory practices and indicate the improvements are needed to patch up a loophole in the original law that allows employers to circumvent legal prosecution for violating it.

Opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act have argue that current gender discrimination laws have been sufficient in decreasing the wage gap since its implementation in 1963 and that the choices made by women in terms of education, major, position and the amount of hours chosen to work per week are what is largely influencing the current gap today. In addition, many of those who oppose the bill’s passing have stated that the well-used statistic of women making only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes does not adequately reflect women of all situations. They believe that the Paycheck Fairness Act imposes greater restrictions on employers and will require worker hours to become more consistent, which can result in issues for women who may have other responsibilities outside the workforce. They also believe that the greater restrictions this bill imposes will hold current employers accountable for past discriminatory actions and change current hiring practices that may be deemed as discriminatory.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits pay discrimination based on the sex of the worker. Under this law, employers are required to pay men and women working in the same position the same wage. Workers are also protected under this law from being retaliated against by their employers when they take legal action against them for wage discrimination. The law highlights an employers wage discrepancies as not in violation of the Equal Pay Act if the difference is justified as falling under a merit system, production level, a seniority system or “a factor other than sex.”

Those in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act have stated that new legislation will tackle the “a factor other than sex” loophole that has allowed the practice of paying workers of different genders in the same position differently today. Factors such as offering a higher starting salary for a position to new employees in order to urge them to accept a position over a rival, matching a previous salary of an employee for a new position that would not justify a pay increase and “experience-based compensation” were all considered factors that fell under the criteria of “a factor other than sex” when an employer was trying to defend unequal pay for positions held by both genders. In addition, the loophole allowed an employer to justify an employee’s wage difference as being due to possessing “superior qualifications,” even if those qualifications did not relate to the position. Without taking into consideration an employees experience, talent or skill for the position and with the possibility that a previous employer held sex discriminatory views when determining an employee’s wages, it is easy to see how this loophole in the law undermines everything that the Equal Pay Act was trying to achieve.

A study conducted by the American Association of University Women has determined that a women’s choices in education, major, position and the amount of hours worked per week do not fully explain the difference between the wages of men and women. When looking at women who graduated with the same major, have the same position and are working the same amount of hours as a male contemporary after one year out of college, women were determined to earn 7 percent less. This difference of pay increased to 12 percent after a woman was ten years out of college and had a full time job with the percentage increasing again to 23 percent if the women was a mother. Women’s hourly wages have increased by 25 percent in the last 30 years due to women seeking education and participating more in higher paying positions, but this doesn’t change the fact that women earn less wages than men in almost every occupation because of discriminatory actions by employers that slip through the cracks of the current laws.

Women of African-American and Hispanic backgrounds are influenced more by the gender wage gap than their Caucasian counter-parts. African American women with a full-time year round job only make 64 cents, while Hispanic women made as little as 55 cents of their Caucasian counter-parts. These findings are significantly lower than the national average of 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Many women of color also have a higher chance of being the “breadwinners” or the sole individual generating income for the family and with this income possibly coming from positions in the care or social sectors that are known to be low paying jobs. Many of these “breadwinner” women are forced to make choices with their income that may not secure their financial stability for the future in order to ensure their family’s needs are met in the present. Statistics from 2012 have determined that the current wage gap is costing African American women who work full time the equivalent of 118 weeks of food each year with Hispanic women losing the equivalent of 154 weeks. The Center for American Progress, which analyzed the amount of money a working women would lose over a lifetime have noted that wages lost by women in the United States because of the gender wage gap could have been used to “feed a family of four for 37 years, buy two new homes, pay for seven four-year degrees at a public university, purchase fourteen new cars,” or could “simply be saved for retirement and used to boost her quality of life when she leaves the workforce.”

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in October, has shown that men and women want the current state of unequal pay to change. Of the 2,002 adults surveyed from the ages of 18 or older, 75 percent of women and 57 percent of men agreed that more needed to be done to secure equality in the workplace. When asked whether the US had made enough changes to ensure equality in the workplace, 67 percent of those surveyed for both genders agreed that more changes needed to be made. Of the women surveyed, 46 percent of the women stated that they had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, with 35 percent of stating that it had a significant negative impact on their career. With more modern audiences of both genders becoming aware of the issue and its significant impact on the livelihood of women, introducing new legislation to strengthening existing laws that are inadequately doing what is required of them is a no brainer.

Almost 50 years have passed since the Equal Pay Act was signed by President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963 promising that women and men would be paid equally when performing the same work. This issue today is still affecting women even after having the means to seek remedy for the injustice. Since the Pay Check Fairness Act’s first introduction in our government’s parliaments, politicians have been more concerned with pointing fingers at each other over the motive behind the bill without acknowledging its significant affects on American society. Without proper legislation to fix the cracks that have allowed discriminatory actions by employers to continue, it will become impossible for women to have the same opportunity of pursing the American Dream as their male counterparts. Unequal pay does not only affect women of the present, but future generations of women who deserve to be guaranteed equality.


One Comment to “Equal Pay for Equal Work”

  1. For republicans to say that this is only a ploy for democrats to get more votes is simply outrageous. I understand that it could certainly be a factor, there is no denying the political benefits from proposing such a thing, but that can’t be it. I was also curious about the wage difference’s root cause. I figured that it could be a difference between education and work experience, though I wasn’t entirely sure. After reading through this, I now understand that women will still get paid less than men with the same exact qualifications up and down. This is ridiculous, as it already puts women at a disadvantage to begin with, especially those that are mothers. I can’t envision why this should be. I have heard arguments about more physical jobs that women may not (and I do use “may” here, as it’s not an absolute, objective statement) be able to perform as adequately as men. But there really aren’t that many jobs that fall under that category. It seems to me that many duties of jobs out of college would require minimal physical effort and are more inclined to look at job performance and work ethics, as well as qualifications of course.

    What appalls me the most, I think, is the difference that african american and hispanic women see. This most certainly shows that this is wage discrimination. There are many employers who still come from the mindset that men should be working and making the money, whereas women should be the mothers and don’t work. I do wonder what will happen in twenty or thirty years, if this will begin to decline even more so as many of these people who hold that ridiculous ideology will be retired and out of the position. I think progress is being made, but not quickly enough. This isn’t something that should just be pushed to the side and left any longer. I really think a change should happen, and it should happen sooner rather than later.

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