The Paycheck Fairness Act: Telling the Truth About Workforce Equality

By: Dani Nispel,  Program and Policy Intern
National Council of Women’s Organizations

I need the Paycheck Fairness Act. We all do. I’m a junior in college and in two years, my job hunt begins. The prospect of only making 77 cents to every dollar men make is disheartening enough, but not having the support to get the pay I deserve is even more daunting.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would give needed improvements to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and as notes, “It’s a comprehensive bill that would create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach, education, and enforcement efforts.” It seems like a no-brainer to help make sure women are receiving equal pay for equal work and giving them the support necessary to get there.

In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks explains, “economic self-sufficiency is needed if women are to be liberated…Masses of women feel angry because they were encouraged by feminist thinking to believe they would find liberation in the workforce.” Well, I am one of those women. I’ve been taught that by getting a college education and then going on to get a job that I will be able to make my own money and not be dependent on a male partner to make choices for me. When I finally understood that because of the gender pay gap, I stand to lose over $400,000  over 40 years, it felt like I’d been lied to. I thought that I was just as good as any man, but to find out that I’m only 77 cents as good? It doesn’t feel too warm and fuzzy.

So yes, the Paycheck Fairness Act is incredibly important because our society faces a whole list of structural barriers that are keeping women from being just as successful as men. If you break it down, the National Women’s Law Center says, “the wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together, with African-American women making only 62 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.” When considering working mothers, MomsRising explains, “Non-mothers earn 10 percent less than their male counterparts; mothers earn 27 percent less, and single mothers earn between 34 percent and 44 percent less. The wage gap is a direct reflection of bias against working mothers.” The Paycheck Fairness Act may not be able to remove all of these barriers, but you have to start somewhere.

Photo by Sarah Lindemann

It’s no longer reasonable to simply encourage women to get into the workforce in order to be equal. That’s a lie: women of all backgrounds are not being treated and paid the same as men. The Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t designed to take into account barriers like biases against mother and racial discrimination, but it certainly gets the ball rolling. It asks us to pay attention to the fact that being in the workforce doesn’t mean full equality and that equal pay for equal work will be a battle sometimes. But the Paycheck Fairness Act also doesn’t lie to women: it says that sometimes you will be treated unfairly, but there are resources and help to back you up.

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