WASHINGTON (CN) — Breathing new life into legislation that died in the Senate under the Trump administration, Democrats on Tuesday advanced a bill they say would close lingering loopholes in federal equal pay laws on the books for nearly 60 years.
Lead sponsor Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said the Paycheck Fairness Act, or H.R. 7, amends existing fair labor standards that she and the bill’s proponents contend have significantly failed to protect women’s rights to equal pay, and especially the rights of women of color.
“In 1973, at its lowest point, women working full time earned 56 cents to every dollar" earned by a man, the Connecticut Democrat told members of the House Rules Committee during Tuesday’s legislative meeting on the bill.
According to a 2020 study from the National Women's Law Center, white women who work full time year-round are on average paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. For Black women, the disparity is drastically worse at 63 cents, while Native American women earn just 60 cents and Latina women earn only 55 cents.
Only Asian American Pacific Islander women came close to earning as much as men did in 2019, taking home nearly 85 cents to ever dollar, according to the study based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Census data also indicated that whether a woman is a broadcaster, museum director, athlete, engineer, university professor, nurse, elementary school teacher or cashier, she is still on average earning less than whatever her male counterpart does doing the same work.
For example, where male civil engineers earned $91,000 annually, women on average earned $79,000.
“Same job,” DeLauro said during the hearing. “Child care? $25,000 for men, $22,000 for women… Detectives? $90,000 for men, $71,000 for women. Economists? $122,000 for men. $102,000 for women.”
Geography also has had little do with women’s earnings. In 2019, the disparity between the sexes was undeterred by borders as women’s wages stagnated compared to men’s whether a state’s political leadership leaned left or right. The inequity of earnings and the disproportionate impact felt by different races of women is a cultural flaw that has yet to be fully reckoned with, DeLauro argued.
“It is a reflection of the lack of respect for women’s contributions to our economy,” she said. “But this could be a moment of transformative change.”
The Paycheck Fairness Act passed in the House in 2019 in a 242-187 vote. It is expected to pass again when it goes to the House floor later this week. President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday that the legislation’s passage is “essential to advancing American values of fairness and equity.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequity for American women while upping already steep economic stakes. A February report from the National Women’s Law Center using data mined from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found over 2.3 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic. Those job losses effectively undid labor progress made by women over the last 35 years.
If the legislation passes again, Democrats argue that progress could be reignited. Among its provisions, the bill bans employers from considering a person’s salary and benefit history when deciding what to pay them.
“The Equal Pay Act of 1963 has so many loopholes,” Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday. “If you’ve been discriminated against as a woman in your previous job and your new job can take your salary history and base your new salary on what your discriminated history is, you will never get out of that box. You will always be behind the curve.”
The Paycheck Fairness Act also establishes rigorous data collection standards for employers, including details on compensation, hiring, termination and promotion broken down by sex, race and national origin. Teen labor is also address; the bill sets up extensive reporting requirements that lawmakers say will examine how the teenage gender pay gap translates to greater wage gaps in the overall labor force. In addition, the bill gives women greater ability to raise claims of pay discrimination in court.