By Rep. Julia Brownley
Women's Equality Day celebrates the ratification on Aug. 26, 1920, of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote. However, nearly a century later, women are still second-class citizens when it comes to equal pay for equal work.
The hard-and-bitter truth is that a half century since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law women still make 77 cents for every dollar men make for the same job. Although women have narrowed the gap over the past five decades, that gap remains present in nearly every occupation and at every level of education.
Additionally, nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are women, placing women at a significant disadvantage to achieving fair pay.
With women composing nearly 50 percent of the labor force and more than 40 percent of primary breadwinners, these low wages undermine the middle class and severely weaken the nation's economy.
A single mother with two children -- who works full-time and earns the minimum wage -- lives $5,000 below the poverty level. We should not tolerate having millions of American women working full-time, year-round and still living in poverty.
Even for those women fortunate enough to be able to start their own businesses, the average revenue of a business owned by a woman is only 27 percent of the average revenue of a business owned by a man.
Paycheck-fairness legislation and an increase in the minimum wage are critical to ensure women are paid what they have earned, which will put more money in the pockets of working women and their families for groceries, housing and gas.
In addition, we must expand job training and education assistance so that working women can obtain better-paying jobs. And women-owned businesses should be further supported by providing more access to capital.
These critical needs are not new. Indeed, they reflect the same belief discussed 165 years ago at the first Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y., where American women embarked on the pursuit of equal rights and equal opportunity.
The women at this convention would be proud to know that their first steps were followed by the first woman being elected to Congress in 1917, and continues today where there are 20 women serving in the U.S. Senate and 81 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives -- more than at any time in our nation's history.
But the struggle continues.
So, on National Women's Equality Day, let's honor the women who fought to pass the 19th Amendment by supporting equal pay for equal work. Equality is the principle upon which this great nation was founded, and the principle upon which it will endure.
As a nation, we have not only the moral imperative to achieve equality, but also an economic imperative to do so.