Back to News & Commentary

A Crisis Averted?

Deborah J. Vagins,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Share This Page
April 12, 2011

Today, April 12, 2011, is Equal Pay Day – the day into 2011 that a woman has to work, on average, to make the same as a man did in just 2010 alone. As I write on this year’s Equal Pay Day, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that only a few days ago we avoided a government shutdown just in the nick of time. An estimated 800,000 federal workers would have been affected by the shutdown—leaving many incredibly worried, particularly about what that meant for their pay. Living in Washington, D.C., there was a lot of talk about getting by with less and how to manage if income was reduced. The stress over the possibility of not getting paychecks was palpable. However, just a few minutes before midnight last Friday, a collective sigh of relief rolled over this city, when a deal was struck.

While there are some concerns about the compromises that were made, the shutdown crisis, at least for now, was averted. The insecurity on people’s faces vanished and talk about making do with less disappeared.

So, then, it is ironic to commemorate Equal Pay Day just a couple days later – a day that marks the fact that it takes women over 15 months to earn what a man does in just 12 months. This is true even 48 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

So, what if you lost your income and it was restored – good news, right?

What about a different hypothetical: what if your income was restored, but only to 77 percent of what you should have earned, while others around you still got their full 100 percent? Is it fair? Maybe not, but that’s what happens to women every day all across America. Women still, on average, make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

And what would you do if you couldn’t reclaim what you had lost? According to congressional testimony, it could add up to between $700,000 and $2 million in lost income – the amount that women are already deprived of over the course of their careers due to chronic wage discrimination.

This hypothetical is a reality for more families than ever before – women are the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of families. And despite strides in education and labor force participation, a recent White House report found that women still make far less money than their male counterparts and still face much higher rates of poverty. When women cannot bring home the money they have rightfully earned, the families that depend on those paychecks suffer too.

Fortunately, there is legislation that can help – The Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill would take steps to effectively address wage discrimination and eliminate loopholes that have undermined the Equal Pay Act’s effectiveness over time. In the 111th Congress, this important legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives, but fell just two votes short of moving forward in the Senate. It was the closest to passing the Paycheck Fairness Act we have ever been, so we cannot stop fighting for equal pay now. Today, Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Rosa DeLauro are reintroducing this important legislation in the 112th Congress and we applaud them for their leadership and deep commitment to this issue.

President Obama and members of the administration have also been very strong supporter of this legislation – clearly understanding how intertwined the fight for equal pay for women is with the economic struggle our country is going through now. Today, in reaffirming his support for combating pay disparities, the President issued a Proclamation for Equal Pay Day, and recently, he spoke to the nation in a televised address to discuss the importance of this bill for working families. He noted:

[A]t a time when folks across this country are struggling to make ends meet – and many families are just trying to get by on one paycheck after a job loss – it’s a reminder that achieving equal pay for equal work isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a family issue.

In one of my first acts as President, I signed a law so that women who’ve been discriminated against in their salaries could have their day in court to make it right. But there are steps we should take to prevent that from happening in the first place. That’s why I was so disappointed when an important bill to give women more power to stop pay disparities – the Paycheck Fairness Act – was blocked by just two votes in the Senate. And that’s why I’m going to keep up the fight to pass the reforms in that bill.

And we will continue to fight right next to him. Today, as I write on Equal Pay Day, we are thankful that our government has not shut down. Thousands of employees do not have to fear about making ends meet. It’s good news. But crisis averted? Not yet. Ask yourself: is your paycheck 23 percent less than it should be?

Learn more about women’s rights: Subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page