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Fifty years later, women still fighting for equal pay

On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act into law, women are still earning only 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man. But while a national conversation on "leaning in" dominates media headlines, progress on pay equity is stalled on the Hill.
/ Source: Jansing & Co.

On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act into law, women are still earning only 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man. But while a national conversation on "leaning in" dominates media headlines, progress on pay equity is stalled on the Hill.

When voters ushered a record number of female lawmakers into the halls of Congress last November, the power of the women’s caucus quickly took hold: in the months that followed, the 20 senators and 78 representatives fought to renew the Violence Against Women Act, worked across the aisle on gun control, and brought the decades-old “scourge” of military sexual assault to light.

But while a national conversation on “leaning in” dominated media headlines this spring, House Republicans quietly blocked a vote on legislation seeking to close loopholes in the half-century old Equal Pay Act. As the landmark legislation making gender-based wage discrimination illegal turns 50, women are still far from reaching pay parity with men.

As Senate Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, marking the 50th anniversary of the bill’s passage through Congress, “Never could we expect at that time that 50 years later, we would still be fighting the fight.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, has introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act 16 times in eight consecutive congresses. The legislation seeks to  close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act by allowing employees to share salary information with coworkers, prohibiting employer retaliation, and requiring employers to demonstrate that disparities in pay between male and female colleagues result from seniority, productivity, or merit—not gender.

“Women in congress change the agenda in so many ways; that’s what the numbers really reflect,” DeLauro told MSNBC.com, citing women’s healthcare, paid sick days, and the fight for pay equity. “But electing a woman to congress who doesn’t believe in these things doesn’t help you at all.”

When the Paycheck Fairness Act came up for a vote in the Senate in June 2012, it fell short of the votes needed to advance the bill. All Republicans opposed the bill, including female Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

When President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law on June 10, 1963, women made up only one-third of the national workforce and earned 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. Earnings in 2013 average 77 cents to every man’s dollar, according to Census Bureau Data.

As the nation’s population changes, so does its workforce, and the wage gap widens to 64 cents to the dollar for African-American women versus men, and 55 cents to the dollar for Hispanic women. Parity is even more elusive in male-dominated fields like manufacturing and financial services.

Last month, a new study by Pew Research showed a record 40%  of households are being supported primarily or totally by working mothers, up from 11%  in 1960.