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Fair Pay Is Critical as the Recession Deepens

SOURCE: Flickr/now_photos

Lilly Ledbetter at an event at the National Organization for Women.

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Wage Gap by the Numbers

Report: Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap from the Action Fund

Video: Standing in the Way of Fair Pay

Lilly Ledbetter earned less than her male coworkers for nearly two decades, but she didn’t find out about it until someone sent her an anonymous note. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2007 that she needed to file the claim against her employer within 180 days of the initial discriminatory act to be eligible to sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But how could she have filed if she didn’t know that her male coworkers were earning more than she was for doing the same job?

One of the 111th Congress’ first actions will be to remedy this flawed and unfair ruling by passing legislation—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—that states that a violation occurs every time a worker receives a discriminatory paycheck, not just the first time. This is an important step forward and one that we should all applaud. No worker should be denied restitution for discrimination simply because she waited to collect evidence of that discrimination.

The recession only underscores the importance of eradicating pay inequities. Families will increasingly need to rely on the income of one parent, and given how the recession has played out so far, that parent is likely to be a mother. Making sure that every parent gets a fair day’s pay is more important now than ever.

Yet as Ms. Ledbetter discovered, workers do not know of unfair practices unless they know what their coworkers earn. How many of us know the earnings of the person sitting in the next cubicle or beside us on the assembly line? Employers are legally allowed to withhold this information from their employees or discipline them for sharing wage information with their colleagues. This makes it virtually impossible for workers to know if a workplace is indeed complying with current fair pay laws.

To remedy this, the House of Representatives on Friday also intends to take up the Paycheck Fairness Act. This legislation, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in the House and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Senate, prohibits employers from limiting workers’ ability to share salary information or retaliating against them for seeking that information.

We applaud the House of Representatives for making workplace fairness its first order of business. We hope and encourage the Senate to follow the House’s lead. Congress has put off ensuring equality at the workplace for far too long. Let’s hope these bills indicate that fairness and equal rights will be the hallmark of this Congress. As job losses mount and wage gains stall, ensuring equal pay will help millions of families just when they need it most.

Nearly half a century after passage of the Equal Pay Act, women continue to earn less than men, even if they have similar educational levels and work in similar kinds of jobs as their male co-workers. Among full-time, full-year workers, women earn only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.

The gender wage gap is a pressing issue for middle class families. The typical wife brings home over a third of her family’s total income, and millions of families rely on a single female wage-earner. The additional earnings of wives has made the difference in achieving a place in the middle class for millions of families since the late 1970s.

All workers need protection from unfair wage and employment practices. The Senate blocked passage of fair pay last spring. Hopefully, the newly inducted Senate will see just how important paycheck fairness is and quickly pass both pieces of legislation. Especially in a recession, no one should get less than a fair day’s wage.

Wage Gap by the Numbers

Report: Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap from the Action Fund

Video: Standing in the Way of Fair Pay

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org