GUEST COMMENTARY: Equal Pay Act needs to be strengthened

2013-08-22T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Equal Pay Act needs to be strengthenedBy Pat Becker and Joy Hess nwitimes.com
August 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In today's struggling economy, this story is all too familiar: A young woman who has been a member of the American Association of University Women Fort Wayne Branch for years lost her job when her employer closed its doors.

She sent out many resumes, had promising interviews. Finally, there was a job offer. But this woman knew her skills and experiences were worth more money than what she was offered. How should she negotiate a higher salary?

Fortunately, she received advice from women who helped her negotiate a better salary without losing the job offer.

Yet this is a scary situation for women who aren't trained to negotiate for their worth. And it gets even scarier when we look at the broader landscape that finds women earning less on average than men in the same jobs with the same qualifications.

AAUW is working on both fronts: Offering $tart $mart salary negotiation workshops to women who are getting ready to graduate from college, and pushing for legislation to close the wage gap so women receive equal pay for equal work from the beginning.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act – and this year marks the 50th anniversary of this legislation.

Today's workforce is very different from that of 1963. Women now make up the majority of workers and are in many cases the primary breadwinners. They aren’t working for luxuries but the essentials of life.

Yet women working full time in 2011 earned on average 77 percent of what men earned.

In Indiana, the earnings ratio in 2011 was worse: The state median annual earnings for men working year round was $45,183, while for women it was $34,023, an earnings ratio of 75 percent.

These numbers do not represent workplace equality. Employees should be paid on a basis of skills and performance, not gender.

But gender isn’t the only issue. In all racial and ethnic groups in 2012, women earned on average less than men in equitable jobs. 

Given that we've had the Equal Pay Act for 50 years, why does the wage gap persist? Simply put, this law has too many loopholes.

Employees can’t learn about wage disparities, so they are unable to evaluate whether they are experiencing pay discrimination.

Finally, the law is outdated. It needs to be brought into line with all the other civil rights laws.

The solution is the Paycheck Fairness Act. It would close the Equal Pay Act loopholes, create incentives for employers to follow the law, give women tools to negotiate for equal pay, strengthen penalties for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliations against workers who ask about employers' wage practices.

What is better than the Equal Pay Act’s 50th anniversary? A Paycheck Fairness Act birthday.

U.S. Reps. Pete Visclosky and Andre Carson are co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Contact your senators and representative and tell them your position on the Paycheck Fairness Act. 

Pat Becker is co-president of the American Association of University Women Fort Wayne Branch. Joy Hess is treasurer of the American Association of University Women Goshen Branch. The opinions are the writers'.

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