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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Equal Pay Day, 2013

Today we join AFJ member National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) in a coordinated effort to call attention to the unfinished business of guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work.  All over the country, bloggers are calling attention to the issue, and NWLC is your one-stop shop for links.

Many of you know the story of Lilly Ledbetter and her courageous fight for equal pay, a story AFJ told in our 2007 documentary Supreme Injustices:

Her fight led to a significant victory – The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But much more needs to be done. Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. But there are steps President Obama can take without waiting for Congress. This letter, signed by AFJ and scores of other organizations lists some of those steps. And if you'd like to urge the President to act, you can sign NWLC's petition.

In the post below, AFJ intern Kyrstin Racine contemplates the implications of unequal pay in her own life:

A future of unequal pay
By Kyrstin Racine, AFJ Intern

As a college student preparing for the real world, I am also preparing for the reality of unequal pay. Statistics say that in my first job I can expect to make 93 percent of what a man in the same position is paid. As my career progresses, research says my pay inequity will only increase. If things don't change, over the course of my career, I can expect to make 77 cents on the dollar compared to a man in an identical position with similar qualifications.

These are the numbers, but what do they mean? To begin with, paycheck inequity will inhibit my ability to pay back student loans. The less money I have, the longer it will take to pay back my loans, and in the end I will accrue more interest and spend more money on my education.

Later on in life, I hope to have a family. But how can I support my family if the sum of my paycheck does not reflect the value of my labor? It will be difficult if not impossible to provide housing, food, healthcare, clothing, and other basic necessities for them. These expenses add up, and will continue to do so as my children’s aspirations will likely demand costly higher education. I will also have to worry about my parents because I may need to delve into my own funds to care for them in their later years. In addition to these setbacks, my own lack of pay will diminish the length and quality of my retirement and future security. As a college student, I realize the wide implications of the pay gap, and the harsh reality makes me all the more ready to fight to ensure equal pay for all women.

Sadly, there are few legal avenues to address pay inequity, and the existing paths are riddled with difficulty. In its misguided rationalization for Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. The Supreme Court majority ruled in a 5-4 vote that Ledbetter's grievance concerning unfair pay was invalid because she waited more than 180 days after the initial instance of discrimination to bring her lawsuit. The truth is, people can go months, years, and even decades without realizing they are victims of paycheck injustice. But the majority essentially ruled that so long as employers could conceal these unfair practices, they could continue to treat their female employees as second-class citizens.

In response to this Supreme Court ruling, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This bill made it easier for women to seek legal action in the face of discrimination, but there is still work to do. Congress has yet to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Without it, workers are not guaranteed access to wage information necessary to identify discrimination. It is also important to pass the Fair Pay Act, which would help to secure equal pay for people working in jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

While we have made steps to ensure women’s dignity and equality in the workforce, there is still more we can do. Even today, unfair compensation affects millions of women and millions more will follow them if we do nothing.

AFJ Outreach Intern Kyrstin Racine is a student at George Washington University.

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