The XX Factor

Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!

For decades, women-and quite a few men-have organized to eradicate the gender gap in pay. In the 1970s, they wore buttons saying “59%” to symbolize the reality that women only earned 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. In Leviticus, a man is valued at 50 shekels of silver and a woman only 30, indicating that not much changed in the 2,000 years preceding the early 1960s.

Despite these efforts, the Senate is lagging behind the House in beefing up the laws that ensure that women get fair pay. After the Supreme Court ruled against Lily Ledbetter , both houses of Congress passed the Fair Pay Act -the first legislation that President Obama signed into law -which bars wage discrimination based on sex, race, or national origin among employees for work in “equivalent jobs.” In January 2009, the House followed up with the Paycheck Fairness Act , which would beef up enforcement of the existing protections. But the Senate is stalled.

Meanwhile, the gender pay gap has taken on heightened importance during the Great Recession. Since the recession began in December 2007, every seven out of every 10 jobs lost has been lost by a man. Hence the nickname ” man-cession .”

What does this mean for families? It means that around the nation, in millions of homes , a woman is the one supporting her husband while he searches for work. Or maybe she’s a single mother whose child-support checks have stopped coming because her ex has lost his job.

For families like these, the gender pay gap can make the difference between being able to pay the mortgage and not. The typical married-couple family in which the husband has lost his job lives on just over 40 percent of their prior earnings (since because of the pay gap, on average he brought home a slightly bigger paycheck than she did). They are also probably struggling with access to health insurance because married-couple families are more likely to get than from his job, rather than hers.

Day after day, we read about how Americans are anxious about the economy and about losing their job or seeing their hours cut. Fundamentally, they are concerned about their family’s well-being. This is exactly where pay equity matters: It’s about fairness, and also about relieving economic anxiety. If every woman earned a fair day’s pay, her family’s economic circumstances would be that much better and its stress level that much lower. Let’s go, Senate: It’s time to get moving.