Have We Come a Long Way Baby?

Fair Pay by the Numbers

Last week, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen current protections against wage discrimination. The act would help close loopholes in current laws that have allowed employers to avoid responsibility for gender-based pay discrimination.

It has been 45 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, affording federal protections against wage discrimination to women, minorities, and the disabled. Yet as the numbersbelow shows wage discrimination is still pervasive.

From $400,000 to $2 million: Lost wages for a woman over a lifetime of unequal pay.

$48,768: Average income for a male over the age of 15 in 2006.

$31,402: Average income for a female over the age of 15 in 2006.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would increase accountability in the workplace by increasing penalties for sex discrimination in pay. It would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share their salary information with their co-workers. The PFA would elevate gender discrimination sanctions to the same level as other forms of wage discrimination like race, disability, or age. Women would be able to file lawsuits for compensatory and punitive damages.

0: The number of states where women have gained economic equality with men.

The Paycheck Fairness Act also directs the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to collect data on women workers in the Current Employment Statistics survey. Identifying wage discrimination is difficult because compensation information for specific occupations is not currently broken down by gender.

77 cents: Amount an average woman earns for every dollar the average man makes.

56 cents: Amount an average unmarried woman earns for every dollar an average married man makes.

81 cents: Amount an average African-American woman earns for every dollar an average African-American man makes.

74 cents: Amount an average Hispanic woman earns for every dollar an average Hispanic man makes.

66 cents: Amount an average Asian woman earns for every dollar an average Asian man makes.

63 cents: Amount an average white woman earns for every dollar an average white man makes.

80 cents: One year after graduation, the amount an average woman with a bachelor’s degree earns for every dollar an equivalent man makes.

Equal pay is first and foremost about equity, but it is also about competitiveness: ensuring that women are paid fairly and rewarded for their work will encourage productivity. Increased wages for women will also take pressure off American families, who are already struggling to get by as a result of high unemployment and surging prices.

In fact, women are now essential to a family’s economic well-being, bringing in about one-third of the family income. And as Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) put it, “only those families with a working wife have seen real improvement in their living standards.”

$4,000: The increase in annual family income if women earned the same income as men in their field and area.

50 percent or more: The decrease in poverty rates if women earned the same income as men in their field and area.

20 percent: Female unemployment rate increase in the last year.

A May 2007 Supreme Court decision, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tires, significantly limited women’s ability to file suit in pay discrimination cases. The Court declared that the 180-day period in which a person can file for discrimination begins to run once the pay rate is determined, rather than starting again after each discriminatory pay check. This means that a woman must now discover pay discrimination and file a law suit within six months of starting a job. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007 would clarify that the discrimination occurs each time unequal compensation is paid.

4: The number of votes that was needed to end a filibuster in April to allow a Senate vote on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Equal pay for equal work is vital to equality in the workplace and in society. Wage discrimination undermines economic security for women and families. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a good first step toward closing the gendered wage gap and ensuring that women can go as far as their skills and hard work take them.