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EDITORIAL: Equal Work, Equal Pay

4/23/2014, 3 p.m.
Courtesy of aclu.org

It’s a shame and an embarrassment that in 2014, the issue of equal pay for women remains unresolved and that certain politicians and activists are using pay equity as a political football.

Last week, President Barack Obama signed two executive orders seeking to balance the playing field.

One executive order will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to create new regulations so that federal contractors begin reporting wage data to the government, requires employees to demonstrate that salary differences among male and female employees doing the same work are based on factors other than sex, and puts some teeth into penalties for violations of equal pay.

The other bars federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share their salary information with each other. Both will affect a large section of the workforce – federal contractors – and should put a dent in the disparities that currently exist.

Equal pay is not an empty mantra. It speaks to women’s ability to make a decent living, earn what they are worth and thrive during a time in this country when all but the wealthiest struggle to make ends meet.

For every dollar a man makes, women currently earn, on average, 77 cents. And this inequality is spread across all occupations. Studies have shown that in the 20 largest jobs occupied by women, females make less than men. Sen. Elizabeth Warren noted that women are taking a hit in nearly every occupation. According to a Bloomberg analysis of Census data, median earnings for women were lower than those for men in 264 of 265 major occupation categories. And in 99.6 percent of occupations, men get paid more than women, while twice as many women work for poverty wages than men.

That’s not an accident, Warren asserts, that’s discrimination. We couldn’t agree more.

Fair pay opponents may try to dress up their arguments in flowery language and high-sounding ideals, but anyway they put it, it’s still discrimination.

Ironically the first bill Obama signed when he assumed office in 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Bill, named for a woman who had worked for about 20 years at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and found out that men doing the same job as her, some with less experience, earned a great deal more money than she did.

Not surprisingly, a number of Republican males in the House and Senate opposed Obama’s efforts and blocked a Senate vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act last week for the third time. And the GOP-led House isn’t likely to bring the issue to the floor. A wide cross-section of women in both parties, however, do support equal pay for women.

Democrats have used the bully pulpit to raise the issue recently and they hope it and other issues germane to women will give them traction in the mid-term elections.

Fair pay is an issue worth fighting for ideological and practical reasons.

For a country which professes to uphold the values of equality and justice, this egregious situation is a blot against the United States. If there is a wage or salary disparity, it should be because of differences in skill, performance, seniority and expertise, not sex. Continuing to allow this inequality to linger saps the country of its strength and erodes the confidence of women who work as hard and harder than men but have less to show for it.

Women have the right to expect this basic protection, have the right to know what their male colleagues are making. And they have the right to fight for parity.

Hopefully, reintroducing pay equity into the national discourse jump-starts serious discussion and prompts the will, political and otherwise, to correct a longstanding grievance against a group that represents more than half of America’s population.