National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

When Women Do Better, Families Do Better and the Nation Can Thrive

April 12, 2011 | Workplace Fairness

President Obama hit the mark during his recent Women's History Month address on fair pay when he said that "achieving equal pay for equal work isn't just a women's issue. It's a family issue." At the National Partnership, we've been saying the same thing for decades: when women do better, families do better. It couldn't be more true.

Women today are balancing more roles than ever before, including, in more and more cases, that of sole or co-breadwinners for their families. The majority of working mothers in the United States now bring in at least a quarter of their families' income. Nearly 14.5 million households nationwide are headed solely by women. Women are an integral factor in the economic security of America's families.

That's why the fact that women are still being paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men is so concerning. In 1963, women were paid just 59 cents for every dollar paid to men. That means that in nearly five decades the wage gap has closed at a rate of less than half a cent per year. At this pace, women will have to wait another four decades to even come close to wage equality.

Women and families have waited long enough. The time to prioritize fair pay is now.

When women are paid low wages and suffer from wage discrimination, the strain is felt throughout their families and communities. In tough economic times like these, the loss of critical income can mean the difference between having basic necessities, and going without. For those living in or near poverty, the consequences of wage discrimination can be particularly severe.

For Equal Pay Day, the National Partnership released state reports that illustrate the harm being done to women and their families as a result of the wage gap. The findings are astounding. In states across the country, women are collectively losing tens of billions of dollars annually - money that could alleviate the strain on countless families and pay for years' worth of basic necessities. Alaskan women, for example, could buy 1.7 years' worth of food with the money they lose. In Connecticut, women could pay for 15 more months of rent. California's women could buy 2,100 gallons of gas.

That's what the wage gap is costing families. But solutions are within reach. One of them will advance today, on Equal Pay Day, when Senator Barbara Mikulski (D - Md.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D - Conn.) re-introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act. By closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and establishing stronger workplace protections for women, the legislation can break harmful patterns of wage discrimination and tighten the wage gap.

We need every member of Congress to support this common sense bill. President Obama has already shown his commitment to equal pay by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as his first piece of major legislation, establishing the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force to crack down on wage discrimination, and publicly continuing to call for fair pay.

The public is on board too. In a national poll, 84 percent of registered men and women voters said they support a law - like the Paycheck Fairness Act - that would give women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace. Seventy-two percent said they strongly support such a law. The public knows what too many legislators and employers have failed to figure out. When women do better, families do better, and we all benefit. It's just that simple.

So let's keep up our energy and momentum in the coming months, and remind lawmakers about what is really at stake in the fight for fair pay. It is certainly about women and achieving true equality, but it is also about the economic security of families - yours, mine, and the generations of families to come. It's time to take a stand for fair pay.


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