This year marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's signing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This landmark piece of federal anti-discrimination law was one of the very first to address gender-based pay disparities. On the day he signed it, President Kennedy called the act a "first step" which "affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes." But he noted that "much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity. . . ."
Fifty years later, we have made a great deal of progress, but there is still much to be done. Over the last half century, that law has been weakened by loopholes, inadequate remedies, and adverse court rulings, resulting in protection that is far less effective than Congress originally intended. On average, women today earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn — a mere 17 cents on the dollar increase since the Equal Pay Act was enacted. The figures are even more dismal for women of color. African American women are paid only 64 cents and Latinas, only 54 cents, as compared to white men.
At his second inaugural address this January, President Obama made clear that we still have a long way to go, saying, "[O]ur journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts." At his State of the Union address, he asked Congress "to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year."
This year, the ACLU will work to finally close the wage gap, by advocating for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act. The ACLU will also be asking the administration to take immediate action, by issuing an executive order that would protect employees of federal contractors from retaliation for discussing or asking about their wages. Following years of advocacy by the ACLU, the Department of Labor recently announced that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is rescinding two harmful guidance documents on pay discrimination originally issued in 2006. This action will immediately enable OFCCP to better conduct investigations of contractor pay practices consistent with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
We look forward to more victories in 2013. After 50 years, it is well past time for equal pay.