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Mrs. SHAHEEN. Mr. President, I am so pleased to be able to join our colleague and leader on so many issues that affect women and families, Senator Mikulski. I am here today to join her and our other colleagues who will be coming to the floor to talk about something that is a real matter of fundamental importance for our country.
Workers should have equal access to every opportunity that will help them put food on the table, send their children to school, and save for retirement. Unfortunately, here we are in 2012 and still millions of American women lose nearly a quarter of their potential earnings to pay discrimination. Almost 50 years after the landmark Equal Pay Act banned wage discrimination based on gender, women in our country continue to be paid just over three-quarters of what their male counterparts receive for performing the exact same work. Every day this wage gap exists is a further injustice to current workers, such as my daughters, and to future members of the workforce, such as my granddaughters and so many other granddaughters of Members of this body.
Pay discrimination does not just hurt the employee, it endangers the families who depend on these women. One in three working moms is her family's only source of income. With the money that mother loses to pay discrimination every year, she could be paying housing and utility costs on her home or she could be feeding her family, with money to spare.
Back in the early 1980s, I chaired a task force for New Hampshire's Commission on the Status of Women looking at women and employment. What we found was discrimination in a whole range of areas, including, of course, pay discrimination. The conclusion of the report was that kind of discrimination against women does not just hurt women who are affected, it hurts their families, their children, their husbands, and it has a ripple effect throughout our economy.
As Governor, I signed a law to prohibit gender-based pay discrimination in New Hampshire and to require equal pay for equal work. In the year before that law was signed, women in New Hampshire made 69 percent of their male colleagues' wages. Today they make 78 percent. When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963, women made less than 60 cents for each $1 earned by men. Today we make 77 cents. So we have made some progress, but clearly we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.
I recently heard from a woman named Marie in New Boston, NH, about her experience with pay discrimination. She wrote:
I worked for many years in a male-dominated company where the fresh-out-of-college boys were paid substantially more than I was for the same position.
She continued to recount that she actually trained these same men to do their jobs, and yet she still was not paid at the same rate.
Since the Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963, the gender gap impacting wages has only narrowed by an average of half a cent per year. So at this rate, it is going to take another 45 years for that gap to close entirely.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would make commonsense updates to the law by requiring pay differences to be based on legitimate business reasons. It would also protect women whose employers try to shirk their responsibilities by prohibiting employees from discussing their salaries. Finally, this important legislation would create a program to strengthen women and girls' negotiation skills so they can seek directly the pay they deserve.
It is long past time for us to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. I urge all of our colleagues to support this legislation. It is bipartisan. It is good for women and their families, and it is good for the country.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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