The Fight for Pay Equity

As the elections highlighted, the economy continues to top the list of issues that women, and the public at large, are focusing on. There have been numerous studies and reports released recently that show that women suffer more during a down economy. They suffer more from the stress of worrying about their financial future, and often with good reason – more women live in poverty than men. Those who do have savings have on average smaller cushions than men because they are less likely to receive a pension, are usually in the workforce for shorter periods of time due to care giving responsibilities, live longer than men, and earn on average only 78 cents on the dollar to what men make while in the workforce. Behind the Pay Gap, research released in April 2007 by AAUW, shows that just one year out of college, women working full time already earn less than their male colleagues, even when they work in the same field. Ten years after graduation, the pay gap widens. Pay equity is a family issue, too: nationwide, working families lose $200 billion in income annually due to the wage gap between men and women. In fact, a large majority of women identified equal pay for equal work as a national priority in this critical election year.

Together, we have made strides towards narrowing the gender wage and ending pay discrimination over the last two years. The House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Senate fell just a few votes shy of moving forward with this narrow legislative fix to the U.S. Supreme Court’s misstep in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. The May 2007 decision severely limited the ability of victims of pay discrimination to seek justice. The House also passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen and update the Equal Pay Act — passed 45 years ago — and would provide critical tools in the fight to close the sizable wage gap between men and women.

Despite this progress, however, neither of these pieces of legislation made it to the president’s desk or became law. The good news is that we kept up the pressure on the candidates, and they listened and responded throughout the campaign. Pay equity was discussed in stump speeches and even during a presidential debate. Lilly Ledbetter was invited to share her story at a major party convention. There was media coverage and a call for action on the ground and on the internet all across the country. These grassroots actions are a powerful force that can make the difference in our fight for pay equity!

With a new administration and a new Congress headed to Washington in January, AAUW will be continuing the push to get pay equity legislation enacted. This effort will take all of us, working together as we have in the past. Online activists and women’s communities have tremendous power in campaigns like this, and we showed this power in recent years and in this election. We must continue the fight, and grow our ranks. Talk about the issues of pay equity on blogs, and link back to resources on websites to educate other women. Share the video of Lilly’s speech with friends and neighbors. Sign online petitions and send emails to your elected officials urging them to support legislation and sign fair pay pledges for their own offices. Use AAUW’s Two-Minute Activist to show your members of Congress that you are the face of pay equity.

We know grassroots involvement –both before and after the election – is a key strategy to make sure the kitchen table issues women care about land on the nation’s policy agenda. The election wasn’t the end of our campaign for pay equity, it was just the beginning –the chance to make a difference. How will you join in the fight?


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  • Linda — you said a mouthful! We cannot rest — there is too much to be done. Everyone needs to get out there and be heard on pay equity and other issues of critical importance to women and girls.

  • Ben Carlson

    It’s in everyone’s interest that we close this pay gap. As long as the gap exists, the workforce is less attractive to women, which depresses the economy, and makes it more difficult for companies and organizations to find qualified female candidates, especially for leadership positions. And the competitiveness of gender-imbalanced companies continues to decline, especially in global markets as woman gain buying power and rise to leadership positions elsewhere. We should expect the Obama administration and the 111th Congress to focus more effort and attention on this issue.

  • Gloria Pan

    The pay gap is a silent, insidious issue because it happens behind closed doors, over the course of years, and many women never find out how they were unappreciated, taken advantage of. And think of the many women whose families are relatively recent arrivals to this country, who struggle to navigate the American culture. I think it must be especially hard for them to watch out for this injustice, which is often revealed through water cooler chats and other social interactions that require a degree of cultural fluency.