Mr. LANGEVIN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today on Equal Pay Day to highlight the persistent wage gap between women and men. April 17th marks how far into 2012 a woman has to work in order to make what her male counterpart made in 2011. This is a travesty, and a milestone we should not still be forced to mark in the 21st Century.
In the 111th Congress, we passed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reinforced the ability of women to sue for pay discrimination. This was a crucial victory, but we must continue the fight and finish the job by passing into law H.R. 1519, the Paycheck Fairness Act. As in past Congresses, I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill would narrow the wage gap between men and women and strengthen the Equal Pay Act, which makes it unlawful for an employer to pay unequal wages to men and women that have similar jobs within the same establishment.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would allow women to sue for wage discrimination and receive punitive damages, as well as compensatory damages. Currently, women who seek compensation for unequal pay can only recover back pay, or in some cases, double back pay. While this bill would increase penalties for employers who pay different wages to men and women for equal work, it also provides incentives such as training programs for employers to eliminate pay disparities and grant programs to help strengthen the negotiation skills of girls and women.
Some may argue that these changes are not necessary, but the numbers speak for themselves. Despite greatly increased commitment to the labor force over the past 45 years, women working full time make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man--less than a 20-percent increase since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963. In Rhode Island, the median pay for a woman working full time, year round is $40,532 per year, while the median yearly pay for a man is $50,567. This means that women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a yearly gap of $10,035 between full-time working men and women in the state.
Even more troublesome, nationally, African-American women earn 66 cents to the dollar and Latina women earn 55 cents to the dollar compared to men. According to a Census Bureau study, male high school graduates earned $13,000 more than female high school graduates in 2006. Women with a bachelor's degree employed year-round earned $53,201, while similarly educated men earned an average of $76,749. This same study also noted that the pay difference between men and women grows wider as they age.
Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support the Paycheck Fairness Act to protect the fundamental right of women to earn equal pay for equal work, to support mothers who just want to be treated fairly by their employers while they provide for their children, and to ensure that daughters still in school can reach their full potential when they graduate.