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For women, it's still 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  April 20, 2010 03:40 PM

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If you or someone you know is a woman, I want to extend this well-earned Equal Pay for Equal Work day greeting to you.

Today, April 20, marks the number of additional days in 2010 that the average woman had to work after December 31, 2009 to earn the same amount that a man earned in 2009 alone.

Can you believe that 90 years after women won the right to vote and nearly 50 years after Congress passed the first Equal Pay Act, women who work full time still earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn? For women of color, the numbers are worse. In 2008, African American women made only 61 cents and Latinas only 52 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

We should be outraged. Working families like mine -- and perhaps like yours -- depend on women to be wage-earners alongside men. In the current economic climate, in particular, entire families feel the pain of wage discrimination.

We're not talking about nickels and dimes here. Former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor and Brandeis University economist Evelyn Murphy, in her breakthrough research on gender wage discrimination, estimates that chronic wage discrimination translates into lost income of between $700,000 and $2 million over a career.

Wow. Imagine what you or I could do with that kind of hard cash!

The figure is even more alarming when you realize the loss of pension and social security benefits that also occurs when you get underpaid for a lifetime.

Fortunately, we have a perfect opportunity to change this for the better.

At the Massachusetts State House, Rep. Alice Wolf and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, have introduced legislation that clarifies the definition of "comparable work" to ensure that the gender wage gap is narrowed. Specifically, the bill would define comparable work as "solely based on whether the two positions entail comparable skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions between employees of the opposite sex." That sounds fair.

Similarly, at the federal level, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support last year passed the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR12), a bill designed to secure equal pay for equal work for all Americans. The bill relies on basic common sense to ensure equal rights. It would require employers to set wage differentials based on factors other than gender and would prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers' wage practices.

Perhaps because equal pay for equal work is fair and straightforward, every member of the Massachusetts House delegation voted to support the Paycheck Fairness Act when it passed in 2009.

Now it goes to the Senate. Senator John Kerry and the late Senator Ted Kennedy were co-sponsors of the Senate version of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and Senator Kerry's office confirmed that he is still on board in support of the bill.

I am hopeful that newly-elected Senator Scott Brown also will support the equal pay for equal work bill. Half of the people he represents are women --and an even greater number have women in their families. Senator Brown also might support the bill for personal reasons. After all, his own his family includes a working wife, journalist Gail Huff, and two professionally-minded daughters.

Can you imagine Senator Brown explaining to his wife that she deserves to be paid less than her male television counterparts?

Still, politics being what they are -- and women's paychecks being what they are -- let's not to leave this vote to chance.

I celebrated Equal Pay for Equal Work day by dropping a dime -- the last one I had here in my pocket -- to call Senator Brown's office and ask how he intends to vote.

A staffer in Senator Brown's office said that he didn't know how the Senator would vote, but offered to convey my message urging Senator Brown to vote yes on the Equal Pay for Equal Work bill.

Now it's your turn. Go ahead -- celebrate! Let Senators Brown and Kerry know that you want them to vote in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182).

Do it for the women in your life and for working families everywhere. It's only fair.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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