By Katherine Greenier, Director, Patricia M. Arnold Women's Rights Project

On June 10, 2013, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.  Passed in 1963, this landmark anti-discrimination legislation was meant to be a first step in the path for gender pay equality, promising equal pay for equal work. It is past time to make good on the promise.
On this 50th anniversary, the gap between promise and reality remains significant.  On average, women today earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn — a mere 18 cents on the dollar increase since the Equal Pay Act was enacted.
In 2010, women in Virginia working full time, year round averaged only 78 cents to every dollar paid to a man working full time. The wage gap was even more substantial for African American and Hispanic women. African-American women were paid only 59 cents, and Hispanic women only 56 cents, to every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Furthermore, the wage gap persists at all levels of education and across occupations.
In Virginia, legislation before the General Assembly to improve the Commonwealth’s 1974 Equal Pay statute failed in committee.  Senate Bill 789 would have barred discrimination on the basis of sex when providing benefits and prohibited retaliation against workers who inquired about, discussed, shared, or disclosed information about their wages, benefits, or privileges or those of another employee.  This is an important measure since some companies prohibit employees from telling colleagues about their salary and impose discipline, up to termination, on any employee who does so.  To balance business’ need for confidentiality, however, the bill still enabled companies to prohibit certain employees from sharing wage and benefit information of other employees.
Luckily, there is a legislative answer to this problem before Congress right now: the Paycheck Fairness Act, cosponsored by our very own Senator Tim Kaine, Rep. Connolly-VA11, Rep. Moran-VA8, and Rep. Scott-VA3. By strengthening remedies and closing the loopholes that have allowed this injustice to persist for so long, the Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and make it a more effective tool in combating wage discrimination. We applaud our Senator and Representatives for taking this step towards closing the earnings gap and encourage other members of Congress to join them.
The continuing wage disparity is particularly troubling in today’s difficult economy, in which approximately 40% of women are the primary breadwinners in their families and more than 60% are breadwinners or co-breadwinners. In this economic climate, we need concrete and immediate action to improve the economic security of all working families. Pay equity is critical, not only to families’ economic security, but also to the nation's economic recovery.
For the women of Virginia and across the nation, this legislation is more crucial than ever. With women’s participation in the labor force at an all-time high, more families are seeing the negative effects of pay disparity. Women live in poverty at higher rates than men, and single mothers face a poverty rate 2 to 3 times higher than average, 11.5 percent of Virginia women compared to 8.5 percent of men. Families cannot afford to bring home one penny less than they earn. After 50 years, it is well past time.
Ask your member of Congress to Co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act Today.