Last month, the nation recognized Equal Pay Day - the day that marked how far into 2012 women had to work for their wages to catch up with the wages paid to men in 2011. Next week, the United States Senate has the opportunity to address this appalling wage gap by advancing much-needed legislation called the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Closing the wage gap is of paramount importance to women, families and our economy. Women working full time in the United States are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, resulting in $10,784 in lost income each year. For women of color, the gap is even worse: African American women and Latinas are paid just 62 cents and 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white men.
These losses are striking when you consider that nearly 15 million households in this country are headed by women, that nearly 30 percent of them live in poverty, and that women are the primary or co-breadwinners for two-thirds of families. Thousands of dollars in lost wages can have seriously damaging effects on these families and our economy.
A recent analysis by the National Partnership shows just how much women lose. If the wage gap were eliminated, a full-time working woman would have enough money each year for approximately: 92 more weeks of food (nearly two years' worth); seven more months of mortgage and utilities payments; 13 more months of rent; 35 more months of family health insurance premiums (nearly three years' worth); or 2,751 additional gallons of gas.
We know from previous research and analyses that this punishing wage gap exists regardless of personal choices like education or occupation. And at the rate it's improving (less than a half a cent per year) it will take another four decades before we see an end to it. That is, unless members of Congress offer a plan to close the gap and give it the attention and consideration it rightfully deserves.
The Paycheck Fairness Act is that plan. The bill would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963; prohibit retaliation against workers for discussing their salaries; recognize employers with good pay practices; and provide assistance to businesses, especially small ones, that need help adopting them. It would create a negotiation skills training program for women and girls and enhance federal agencies' investigative and enforcement abilities.
The House of Representatives recognized the need for the Paycheck Fairness Act when it passed it in the 110th and 111th Congresses, but the bill fell two votes short in a procedural Senate vote during the 111th Congress. It has been reintroduced in the current Congress and it faces another procedural vote.
Lawmakers say that they value families. This modest, common sense legislation offers a chance to prove it. Next week's vote isn't even about the merits of the Paycheck Fairness Act. It is simply a vote to give the bill the consideration it - and tens of millions of women and families throughout the country - deserves.
Congress must do what's right for the women and families in their states or districts by advancing and then passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. No more excuses and no more political posturing. Women's work is essential. And women's wages are essential. Now is not the time for Congress to turn its back on America's women and their families.