My Turn: On Women’s Equality Day, a call for equal pay
Since Congress passed the Women’s Equality Day resolution and President Richard Nixon signed it in 1971, America has recognized “the continued fight for equal rights” each Aug. 26.
In New Hampshire, every Aug. 26 looks and feels like the year before. Fall is just around the corner. It’s cooler at night, back-to-school sales are starting and parents across New Hampshire are preparing for the school year ahead. And something else is the same. Women still receive only about 77 cents for each dollar a man earns.
More women are working than ever – a full two-thirds of households now rely on a woman’s income. But while women make up almost half of the American workforce, countless studies show that gender discrimination still plays a role in decisions about salaries and raises, as well as hiring and promotions. Despite all the gains women have made, they still face a wage gap that hurts them, their families and their local businesses, who benefit from a family’s purchasing power.
In addition to this wage gap, women face family-unfriendly policies that negatively impact their careers and slow down economic success. These barriers not only hold back women and their families, but also our economy. That’s why I support a women’s economic agenda – because we need policies that will give women a fair shot to succeed.
If you wonder whether women are paid similarly to their counterparts in any American business you support, it’s a good question, but one you might not be able to answer. That’s because, right now, bosses are allowed to bar employees from discussing wages, and the government doesn’t collect adequate wage disparity statistics. It is impossible to know if pay is fair to both men and women when employees can be fired for revealing what they are paid.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would address both of these problems, but Republican House Speaker John Boehner won’t allow it to come to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. Speaker Boehner is the only member of Congress who has the power to fix this injustice by allowing a vote, but he refuses to. My opponent, Frank Guinta, opposes paycheck fairness, too, and wants to keep policies in place that allow this unfair status quo to continue.
Enacting policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act would play a big role in narrowing the wage gap, but we can do more. As parents, we need to teach our daughters the importance of negotiating for fair pay from the start. That’s because the first few years of a career affect where she’ll end up on the pay scale later. Studies show the wage gap accumulates over time, becoming wider as women grow older. The average lifetime losses for a full-time female worker in New Hampshire can make the difference between a secure retirement and poverty in old age.
Wage discrimination doesn’t affect just individual paychecks, but also entire professions. Fields with a historically disproportionate number of women, such as child care and education, pay lower average salaries.
Another category where women are disproportionately represented? Minimum wage jobs. More than 70 percent of minimum wage workers in New Hampshire are females, and while you might hear they are just teens starting a first job, that is simply false. The average minimum wage worker is a 35-year-old woman with a family. To raise women and their children out of poverty, I support raising the national minimum wage to $10.10.
Women who have small children have extra workplace challenges, because they still lack basic workplace protections. First, the U.S. doesn’t require any paid maternity leave. Because of loopholes in the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it’s still legal to be fired or demoted because of pregnancy. And for workers with young children, access to affordable child care often makes the difference between success and failure in the workplace.
Too many women aren’t able to join the workforce because they don’t earn enough to put the kids in day care, cannot find a reliable provider or the hours don’t match up. Again, I’ve co-sponsored bills to fix these problems – now we just need to vote on them.
When you look at the bottom line, female-friendly workplace policies are good for both families and the economy. If we could achieve equal pay for women tomorrow, we would add an estimated half-trillion dollars to our GDP, jump-starting our economic recovery.
Democrats have developed policies to move us toward that goal. Now we need the political will to push them over the finish line. The good news: women who stand to gain from paycheck fairness make up more than half of the electorate, and we can mobilize our families and friends to vote for our wallets at the ballot box this November. Talk to the women you care about, and tell them to practice self-defense. Vote Nov. 4!
(Carol Shea-Porter is running for re-election as the Democratic candidate in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.)