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Can the Proposed Paycheck Fairness Act Close the Pay Gap?

Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, calls it “outrageous” that men and women are still earning different incomes for the same work. She references that in spite of the equal pay laws that have been on the books since the ‘60s, women in the US typically earn 80% of what men earn on average. To combat this discrepancy, two female members of Congress, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), decided to push for legislation to close the pay gap on Equal Pay Day. Their bill is called the Paycheck Fairness Act and its mission is to enforce the standards for equal pay that are already in place by opening conversations about pay discrimination and challenging employers to prove that their pay discrepancies are rooted in gender-blind reasoning.

Actions of the Obama Administration ensured that businesses submit their pay data by race and gender to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The proposed bill goes one step further by requiring employers to explain pay discrepancies within the same occupation should such discrepancies appear in their reported pay data. Paying certain employees less because of differences in education, work experience, and job training is justified, according to the bill, whereas paying certain employees less because of gender is completely unjustified.

Currently, there are still states that permit employers to punish employees who speak about their income and inquire about the income of their peers. This implicitly prevents female employees from knowing that they are being paid less for equal work if such is the case. Legal expert on equal pay Emily Martin says, “You can’t challenge pay discrimination if you don’t know you’re being paid less than a male coworker, but a lot of employers either have formal policies prohibiting employees from talking to each other about wages or strong implicit disapproval for employees talking to each other about wages.” The proposed bill prohibits employers from having these rules, which perpetuate wage discrimination, and it allows employees to bring about legal action if they encounter such regulations.

The bill also launches salary negotiation training courses for women and provides assistance to small businesses to aid their transition to pay equity.

Since 1997, DeLauro has introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act to Congress every year. Though many members of Congress support the bill, it has yet to gain the traction necessary to become law. Murray added, “It takes a lot of women and a few good men to get something done.”

This year, more than a few good men have shown their support for the bill, recognizing it as an issue of societal and economic growth. “This is not just a ‘women’s issue,’ it is an issue that impacts the nation’s economy and the ability of families across the country to secure mortgages, buy cars, and save for their kids to go to college,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). “If we truly want to help Virginia’s families succeed and climb the economic ladder, then passing the Paycheck Fairness Act should be a top priority for Congress.”

Despite the reintroduction and support for the bill, Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) shows no intention of bringing the bill to the floor for a vote. So, although it is good to know that members of Congress have equal pay on their minds and that women are leading the battle, we cannot yet expect to see that mentality reflected in national law anytime soon.

Featured Image by Ken Teegardin on Flickr
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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