Why the Failed Paycheck Fairness Act Vote Matters

by | Sep 19, 2014 | Fair Pay

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

It has been quite the week for fair pay for women. On Monday, we witnessed a shameful act when opponents blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate. On Tuesday, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that there has been no significant progress in closing the national gender-based wage gap. And on Thursday, our analysis of the wage gap’s impact, based on new data, served as a sobering reminder of just how much is at stake for women and families, and for our economy, in this debate.

The week’s developments put Monday’s vote into high relief. First, we saw yet again the terrible toll that unfair pay is taking on women and families in every single state. According to the new Census data and our analysis, women who are employed full time, year round in the United States are paid, on average, 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. That’s $10,876 in lost income each year. It’s much worse for African American women and Latinas, who are paid just 64 and 56 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white men.

With more than 15.2 million households nationwide now headed by women, and about 31 percent of them living below the poverty level, losses of this size are no small matter. In fact, the National Partnership found that eliminating the gap would mean that a working woman would have enough money for 1.6 years’ worth of food for her family, more than seven more months of mortgage and utilities payments, 12 more months of rent, or 3,208 additional gallons of gas. And that’s in just one year.

Second, we learned that things are not getting appreciably better. The fact that what appears to be a slight improvement in the size of the national wage gap — a decrease from 23 cents to 22 cents on the dollar since last year — was deemed “not statistically significant” by the Census provides further evidence that the wage gap is not going to close on its own any time soon. In fact, experts still estimate that it would take more than 40 years, until 2058, for that to happen.

And finally, we had a painful reminder that some lawmakers are not serious about ensuring fair pay for women. Despite members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle claiming to support equal pay, the Senate failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

America’s women and families are fed up with elected officials who claim to care about their economic well-being but refuse to advance measures that would help. The Paycheck Fairness Act is common sense legislation that would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for discussing their wages, recognize employers with good pay practices, and provide assistance to small businesses that need help adopting such practices. It would also create training programs for women and enhance the ability of federal agencies to investigate and enforce pay discrimination laws.

Members of Congress will spend the next several weeks at home. Every one of them should take a hard look at the impact the gender-based wage gap is having in their states and districts. When they do, they will see how badly the country needs the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s about time.