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Public Statements

Women's Pay

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, I rushed to get to the floor before the gavel went down this afternoon because this is the week which marks when women had to work as long as men work in order to get the pay that is equivalent to the pay of men during the 12 months of 2012. Notice what month we are in. This is April. So we're talking about four-plus months beyond the 12 months that a man had to work in order to have the same salary--it takes a woman 16 months plus.

But it was not that alone, Mr. Speaker. There are figures I discovered in doing some research. And, of course, there is the pressure, I think, all of us should feel if Congress has anything to add to this discussion that would move what appears to be a ``no-forward'' position for women's pay in the workforce in at least the last 10 years. There are pending before the Congress at least two bills. There is a petition, a discharge petition, that is already up to compel the House to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. That act has not moved forward in the House, although it has been filed for a number of years. But I believe the most recent data would compel everyone to believe if there is anything this House can do, this is the time to do it.

I looked at what progress women have made since I chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) beginning in the late 1970s, with never a thought that I'd be a Member of the House of Representatives. I've looked at the decade of the 1980s. That's about the time I left the EEOC, and what I found then was steady, yes, incremental, but steady progress; moving, for example, from 60.2 percent in 1980 to 69.9 percent, so that means about 10 percentage points movement in 10 years.

But then I looked at the years beginning in 1990 until today, and it appears to be taking women twice as long to move the distance during this latter 20-year period than it took during the 10-year period beginning in 1980. That ought to make all of us stop and wonder what is at work.

If we look at 1990, when we looked like we were solidly into the 70s, that is women making 70 percent, the exact figure was 71.6 percent of what men earned, that figure gradually went up. You get to 2000, from 1990, and women have gone only from essentially about 70 percent, exactly 71.6 percent, to 73.7 percent. The rate is what has slowed, but even more seriously, 77 appears to be the unlucky number for women's pay in our country because women have been at 77 percent, sometimes 77 percent and a little more, but basically 77 percent of what a man earns since 2005.

What that means is no progress whatsoever.

Incremental progress was never enough, particularly when you consider that more women today work than men. But the slow pace of growth, compared to many past years, is unacceptable.

What is the reason for this?

The most recent data shows an actual widening of the gap between men and women in wages. For example, in 2012, women who worked full-time--now we're talking about full-time workers--earned 80.9 percent, almost 81 percent, of what men earned. That was in terms of weekly pay. But that was a drop of more than two percentage points from the year before, 82.2 percent.

Now, these are full-time women's earnings at a time when women considerably outrank men in the number who graduate from college, for example.

The annual earning look even worse, because that's where the 77 percent figure comes in, where women lagged even further behind if you look annually, and there you get 77 percent of what men earned annually. That becomes a figure that we almost know by heart. That's a figure that we ought to know for only one year.

If you want to see what that means in dollars and cents, a woman who works full-time averaged $691 a week in 2012. That was less than she had earned in 2011.

Now, men's earnings in that same week were $854. That's compared to $691 for a woman. What is most important is not the difference in the men's and women's pay, but that men had a small gain over what they had earned in 2011, whereas women were going in the opposite direction.

As we looked at why this would occur, I looked further into where are the jobs. Why not look at the job growth; perhaps we're not seeing growth in women's occupations.

And one of the great problems, of course, with women's pay is that, although they are graduation from college, women are still employed largely in stereotypic women's jobs. And these jobs have been women's for so long that they are labeled as women's jobs, and they have acquired a wage of their own that reflects discrimination against women.

Job growth, if we look at it during the last year, has been in retail, in catering, and in minimum-wage jobs. That, in and of itself, of course, may tell us why women's wages have not been growing at the rate we would like.

Women are preparing themselves in other fields; but very often, when we talk about women's wages, we are not talking about the average woman. And since that average woman's wage is essential for family earnings today, we've got to look at who we're talking about.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is so modest that it doesn't even pretend to go at this entire problem, but it is the kind of bill that you would think we would have a bipartisan majority for. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which we're trying to get out of the House, simply updates the Equal Pay Act, which it was my honor to enforce as chair of the EEOC.

The so-called EPA, or Equal Pay Act, was the first of the Civil Rights Acts, and it guarantees equal pay for equal work, the kind of guarantee that, if you asked every 100 Americans if they were for equal pay for equal work, you would find 99.9 percent of them would say they were, and any falling off of that, whatever it would be would be because they didn't understand the question.

But we are talking about a bill that was passed more than, well, now, 50 years ago, and you can imagine that it does not fully meet today's economy. The modest changes involved, to allow class actions, for example, are to ensure that a woman could discuss her wages without being fired.

Today, if you discuss your wages openly, there's nothing to protect you against being let go. You can see secrecy in wages is part and parcel of the problem.

Women's wages, of course, have suffered, particularly in this recession, also because a disproportionate number of public jobs have not come back, as we see teachers being laid off, for example. We see social workers being laid off. And you're going to see more of that because of the sequester.

The sequester is going to be handed down in programs to states and cities, and it means that the programs that were available are not going to be readily available, and you will begin to see these women's jobs suffer even more.

I am very concerned that we have been looking at what progress women have been making, without noting that they have been making no progress, and that is the problem I see.

I don't pretend that any one statute will make that progress occur. I do understand that there is a set of related phenomena involved here, but I do not believe we can leave on the table our responsibility for moving to do what we can, as women become not only equal in the workforce, but often the majority.

It is men who are opting out of the workforce, and some of them can opt out because they have pensions. Some of them are opting out because they go on disability from having worked. Women seem not to be opting out, but opting in.

The Paycheck Fairness Act gives some muscle to the old Equal Pay Act. In some ways, it's fallen into a certain amount of disuse because it doesn't meet all that is needed today. It's still, of course, an important statute; but it remains a statute that, like any of our civil rights statutes, needs to be looked at often to see in what ways it can be improved.

In addition to the Paycheck Fairness Act, with Senator Harkin I have sponsored the Fair Pay Act. That act differs from the very important Paycheck Fairness Act because it seeks to get at a rudimentary problem in the workforce, and that is that women are captured in women's occupations that, by their very nature, have built-in discrimination.

For example, two-thirds of white women and three-quarters of African American women work in just three areas of the economy: clerical, service, and factory jobs.

It will take a more aggressive strategy to break through the old, even ancient habits of the workplace that have been there since women began to work. We have steered women into women's jobs. The Fair Pay Act looks at jobs which are comparable but are not paid comparably and would require that they be paid in that way. There may not be a huge number of such jobs, but the States have often found such jobs and sometimes have made them comparable in pay. Often at the urging of trade unions, studies that have made it clear that you can make comparable pay adjustments where you can prove that the reason that jobs which are different but comparable and are not paid the same is because of discrimination--and that's what'd a woman would have to show--women's wages can, in fact, make up for the disparity over a period of time, as a number of States have done, simply by spreading change in pay over a period of time until the goal of equal pay is reached.

It is one thing to mark this week as a week where women are still at 77 percent; it's quite another to make clear that that 77 percent is a figure we've been stuck on now, with absolutely no movement, for more than 10 years. The Paycheck Fairness Act, moving it with a discharge petition, as we're trying to do, to at least force a vote on it, would make people think about the figures I have just discussed; because if they think about them, I think most Members would want to do something about them.

We are not preparing women for the inevitable retirement that will come without pensions and with too little pay. The more their pay begins to reflect the pay of what is often their mate's, who graduated from high school or college at about the same time, with comparable skills, the greater will be women's security as they age and will reduce the call on taxpayers to take care of them.

It was with great pride that I chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the late 1970s and saw some progress that began to be made in the seventies and eighties. There's no reason for the slowdown that women have been stuck on at 77 percent even before the recession. It is not the Great Recession that has set women back; it is the failure in legislation and it is the failure in the workplace, itself, to treat women's pay as the equivalent of the pay of men.

I hope women will not be discouraged as they now are finishing high school and college in greater numbers and at a greater rate than their male counterparts. We can only hope they will not be discouraged when they see that their pay does not, in fact, equal what their education forecasts.

During this week when we noted that it took women 16-plus months to earn what a man earned in 12 months, I ask that we look behind these numbers and put a face on them. Because the face is the woman who lives next door; the face is your wife; the face is your daughter who is going to come out of college now loaded, as most of them are today, with their education having been secured through loans. They want to maximize the time, effort, energy, and ambition that goes into pursuing education, regardless of gender, so that they can begin to move at least incrementally again.

Women have been more than aware that their own progress has come slowly. They are not content to make no progress. But, if we look at the last 12 years, essentially, what we see is no progress. I'm not sure what kind of a goal to put on progress that should be made. I can only look at the decade when some considerable progress was made and when 10 percentage points of progress was made over 10 years, to say if we could do that once, we surely should be able to do it again. A place to begin would be to sign the discharge petition so that the Paycheck Fairness Act could be brought to the floor. It needs 218 signatures. It currently has 192 cosponsors. There may be more by this point.

We have to focus on taking action. Individual women, perhaps, will be taking such action in their own workplaces. The whole notion of lean in--that is, to go in and ask for the pay that you're entitled to--is a step that I would, of course, advise. But I recognize that an endemic problem in women's progress across the board calls for more than individual action.

As we mark, as we usually do in April, the time in months it has taken for women to achieve what men have achieved in far less time--and this time 4 months more to earn what a man earned in 12 months--I hope that that figure, at a time when women's pay is stuck at 77 percent or so as it has been for 10 or 12 years now, that we will be inclined to use this week not to commemorate, not even to just recognize, but to be activated to move women whose incomes are vital not only to their own families, but to our country. If we do that, then by the time we reach this point perhaps next April, we will have a different story to tell.

I am pleased to yield back the remainder of my time.


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