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Mr. COONS. Mr. President, I rise in strong support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation to ensure the women of this country earn equal pay for equal work. I am grateful to Senator Mikulski--and many of our cosponsors--for her strong and able leadership on this important bill, S. 3220, which we will take up later this afternoon.
The principle of equal pay for equal work is a simple, powerful principle of basic fairness. In this year of 2012, no one should earn less for doing the same job just because of their gender. This legislation is an important step forward. It would plug holes and make critical changes in the law that would ensure the promise of equal pay that was first enshrined in our law decades ago.
This legislation will deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and bar retaliation against workers who disclose their wages to colleagues. Knowledge is power, Mr. President. Women who don't know their male coworkers are earning more for doing the same job can't speak up and demand to be treated fairly.
My wife Annie and I are raising three wonderful children, all of whom are equally bright and driven and capable. As any parent knows, one of the phrases we hear more than any other from our own children is, ``That is not fair.'' When we pick out one for more entertainment or more opportunity, for more travel or more close family time, the first thing we hear from their siblings is, ``But, Dad, that is just not fair.'' As Annie and I raise our wonderful twin boys and our tremendous and talented daughter, we try as best we can to be fair. Yet I know my daughter Maggie, like other women and girls all across our country, will earn less than her brothers even if she chooses the exact same career track. That is just not fair. That is unacceptable. That violates our bedrock belief as a country in equality of opportunity and the American dream that if people work hard, nothing will stand in the way of their success.
I am hopeful by the time my daughter Maggie enters the workforce we will have reduced or ended the gender pay gap in this country. I believe by then our Nation's economy will be back to full strength. But the fact is thousands of families across my home State of Delaware, the Presiding Officer's home State of West Virginia, and my neighboring State of Maryland can't afford to wait for things to get better in the economy and in our legal system. They are struggling right now to pay their bills every month, and unfair pay discrimination adds to their burden.
Women in Delaware, on average, earn 81 cents for every dollar paid to men. Over their lifetime that means they will earn nearly $ 1/2 million--or $464,000--less than their male counterparts. Women make up just a shade under half of Delaware's workforce, and close to 40 percent of married, employed mothers in Delaware are their families' primary wage earners. When women are paid less than men for doing exactly the same job, it hurts whole families. Over 135,000 children in Delaware live in households that depend on their mothers' earnings.
I heard from one of those mothers--Patricia from Dagsboro, DE. She wrote to my office urging me to support this legislation. She wrote:
Without my paycheck, we could not have afforded to pay for the college tuition for two of our children. If I had been paid equally for equal work, experience and education, it is likely neither of them would have had to take out student loans to make ends meet.
Patricia urged me to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Mr. President, paycheck fairness has wide-ranging consequences--from covering the cost of higher education to mortgage payments to everyday bills and consumer spending. Income earned by women is a key driver, a key contributor to our economy.
Some on this floor have attributed the pay gap to differing priorities or to the idea that some women choose to work fewer hours in order to spend more time with their families or to meet their family care commitment. But the facts simply do not bear out this theory. Women earn less starting the very moment they graduate from school, before they have made any choices about family or worklife balance. That shows us pay discrimination is real. Study after study has shown it is pervasive and, in my view and that of many of my colleagues, it needs to finally be stopped.
The gender pay gap persists across all occupations and educational levels. But it is especially hard on minorities and female-headed households, which are much more likely, as a consequence, to be low income. The consequences of the gender pay gap remain even when a woman stops working because after a lifetime of lower earnings, the average Social Security benefit for American women under 65 is about $12,000 compared to $16,000 for men of the same age.
If I might say, in conclusion, then, Mr. President, there is not a Member of this body who would dispute women are just as educated, just as trained, just as capable in so many ways as their male colleagues across our whole society and there should be no difference in the equality of the pay they receive for that work.
I support the Paycheck Fairness Act because it will help women fight for the equal pay they have earned, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.
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