STATEMENT OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY AT THE HEARING FOR EQUAL PAY FOR WOMEN WORKERS
One of the most profound economic shifts of the past century has been the entry of vast numbers of women into the workforce. In 1900, women made up only 18% of the working population. Today, more than 46% of our workers are women. Nearly three-quarters of all mothers are in the labor force, and nearly four million women hold multiple jobs in order to provide adequately for their families.
Although America's women are working harder than ever, they're not being fairly compensated for their contributions to our economy. Today, women earn 77 cents for each dollar earned by men, and the gap is even greater for women of color. African-American women earn only 67 percent of what white men earn, and Hispanic women earn only 56 percent. Women are routinely paid less than men for performing the same jobs, and occupations dominated by women tend to be lower-paying than male-dominated occupations, even when the skill sets required are the same.
The problem is not getting better. This year's wage gap of 23 cents is the same as it was in 2002. Since 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, the wage gap has narrowed by less than half of a cent a year. At that rate, women won't achieve fairness in the workplace for at least another 50 years. That's unacceptable in the 21st century.
It's true that the wage gap is caused in part by how society deals with the realities of working women's lives. Many women have to take time out from the workforce to care for children or other family members, and these gaps in employment can permanently reduce their future earnings. It's an unfortunate reality, but it shouldn't have to be this way. No one should have to give up fair treatment in the workplace in order to have children or care for elderly parents.
We also can't blame the pay gap exclusively on women's dominant role in childcare. Outright gender discrimination also accounts for the disparity between men and women's pay.
There's ample evidence of such discrimination. Multiple studies - including a study by the Census Bureau in 2004, a General Accounting Office report in 2003, and a 2006 study by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation - have examined the gap in earnings between men and women and all reached the same conclusion. This gap cannot be explained by differences in education, tenure in the workforce, working patterns, or occupation. Gender discrimination alone causes a significant portion of the pay gap, and it illustrates the continued prevalence of discrimination against women in our society.
It's appalling that such discrimination still exists in America. It's preventing working women from achieving their full potential, and Congress needs to act now to bring fairness to the workplace.
Women are not getting paid equally for doing the same jobs as men. It's illegal and it's unacceptable, but it happens every day. There are too many gaps in the law, and too many barriers to effective enforcement.
Senator Clinton's Paycheck Fairness Act will give America's working women the support they need to fight for equal pay. It will make sure our fair pay laws apply to everyone, and it will strengthen the penalties for employers who are not obeying the law. These basic reforms are long overdue, and I urge my colleagues on the Committee to support this important legislation.
Equal pay for equal work is a key part of the solution. But we also need to deal with the problem that our economy often undervalues and therefore underpays work done by women, particularly women of color. Women are not getting paid what they are worth for doing jobs that may be different than those performed by men, but are of equal value to the employer.
Senator Harkin's Fair Pay Act addresses this challenge. It will require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. It will give workers the information they need to determine whether female-dominated jobs are being under-valued, and it provides a remedy for workers who are victims of such systemic discrimination. It is the second key step on the path to workplace fairness, and it deserves our strong support as well.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about these important proposals and other ideas for closing the wage gap. America's working women deserve full fairness on the job, and today's hearing is a step in the right direction.