Demanding equal pay for equal work

By Laurie Young, Ph.D., director of aging and economic security, National Gay and LesbianTask Force

Today is Equal Pay Day. This is the day in the year that shows how much longer women have to work to earn what men earned in 2011. It takes 107 extra days for women to catch up. Reality is that as long as we are playing catch up we can never be equal. It is beyond comprehension that we still have to call out this basic inequity when the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act signed into law by President Obama in 2009, was necessary to try and address the ongoing discrepancies in the wages earned by women in comparison to men doing the same and comparable work. The president and the Congress at that time saw that while it would be nice for employers to “do the right thing,” we cannot rely on the kindness of strangers.

We can’t wait any longer for altruism to pave the way to economic security for all women. Nationally, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. African-American women earn 62 cents on the dollar and Latina women average only 54 cents on that dollar. Many women are the only breadwinners for their families and as a result their entire family struggles because of the unequal pay standards. We hear a lot of talk about basic fairness in today’s economy, and yet this inequality and lack of pay equity threatens the ability to provide for everyday necessities for loved ones and can bring poverty and bankruptcy if the earner is sidelined.

We know that this inequality also affects lesbian, bisexual and transgender women as well. Research shows that LGB people are at a disadvantage when it comes to income parity. Because of the work of the Williams Institute we know that lesbian couples and their families are more likely to be poor than their heterosexual counterparts, while children from homes headed by same-sex couples are twice as likely to be in poverty compared to children from homes headed by heterosexual couples. This is magnified when we talk about lesbian couples who are people of color and raising children.

The Task Force’s own National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that transgender women are often living in extreme poverty, with nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 per year compared to the general population. Congress saw the lack of equality in 1963 and passed the Equal Pay Act. While some progress has been made it is clear that more needs to be done. The Task Force calls on members of Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill will expand protections for working women and bring a close to wage discrimination. Making the goal of 1963 a reality is still much too far away. The time for change is now.

Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to guarantee women their fair share and help the millions of people living on the edge of poverty because of unequal treatment by employers.