In 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act at a time when women were paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to men. Since then, we have made great progress, and our economy has been transformed by women in the workforce. Yet, even as we see women appointed to the Supreme Court and to executive leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, the typical woman in Washington state today still only earns 76 percent of what the typical man does. This means we have one of the widest wage gaps in the entire country. For a state like Washington, where we pride ourselves on our progressive values and our commitment to equality, this is unacceptable.
This pay gap has real life consequences for women and their families. To help put the wage gap into perspective, consider that the average woman in the United States today earns $11,000 less per year than her male counterpart. At a time when a growing number of women are the primary breadwinners in their families, the pay gap results in fewer dollars that can be spent on basic household needs, on savings for children's education or on retirement. And at a time when too many women and children are facing serious economic insecurity, achieving equal pay for women has the potential to significantly reduce the poverty rate of working women.
Unfortunately, our nation's outdated policies are currently doing more to limit opportunities for women than to expand them. Too many women and children are facing serious economic insecurity, either living in poverty or on the brink of it. Too many women don't receive paid sick time and are forced to go without pay to care for their family's health. Too many pregnant women are still facing discrimination at work, and too many mothers are having trouble finding affordable, quality childcare for their kids.
That is why it's so important that Congress take meaningful actions now to close the wage gap and expand opportunity for women.
In Congress, I have joined my colleagues in offering a legislative agenda that will address the economic challenges facing women and families today. This agenda is based on a simple principle: When women succeed, America succeeds. It includes a number of concrete, commonsense policy proposals that focus on guaranteeing equal pay, balancing work and family, and expanding access to affordable childcare. By moving forward on these key policy goals, we can help open the door to opportunity for millions of women and their families.
Unfortunately, the leadership in the House of Representatives has decided not to address these critical issues. For example, last year I helped introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would create stronger incentives for employers to pay workers fairly, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and prohibit retaliation against workers who discuss wages with their colleagues. Considering how wide the wage gap remains today - more than 50 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act - it is stunning that House leadership has refused to allow a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act.
This critical legislation deserves fair deliberation in Congress, and I believe that it is more important than ever for Americans across the country to call on their leaders to take action on equal pay and women's economic issues.
I am honored to participate in a forum this weekend hosted by the Bellingham branch of the American Association of University Women that focuses on the issue of equal pay. This event will provide an opportunity for Whatcom-area residents to share their personal stories of how the wage gap is impacting them and explain why immediate action is needed in Congress to ensure equal pay for workers in Washington state and across the country.
I hope that by sharing these stories, we can help build momentum for this important issue and help move our nation toward expanding opportunity for women and closing the wage gap once and for all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D., represents the 1st District that includes nearly all of Whatcom County outside Bellingham, plus portions of King, Snohomish and Skagit counties.
PAY FAIRNESS PANEL
The Bellingham branch of the American Association of University Women is hosting a panel discussion on women and equal pay from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 8, at the YWCA, 1026 N. Forest St.
Featured speakers will be U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, Seattle AAUW pay equity expert Tonna Kutner and professor Shurla Thibou of WWU's Women's Studies Program. The discussion will focus attention on the Paycheck Fairness Act currently under national consideration.
The public is invited to bring written questions and stories about pay inequity for Reps. DelBene and Rick Larsen.
For more information, call Catherine Chambers at 360-647-3888.