The XX Factor

Senate, Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!

This week, President Obama called on the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. He opened by acknowledging the transformation in who is the breadwinner for America’s families: “In America today, women make up half of the workforce, and two-thirds of American families with children rely on a woman’s wages as a significant portion of their families’ income.” The upshot: Women’s wages matter because women are breadwinners .

Yet women today continue to earn only $0.77 for every $1 that men earn. This gap in pay occurs across educational groups and is larger for women of color than for white women. Given how far women have come-and how hard we work-this is simply inexcusable. Especially since much of the pay gap cannot be explained by anything that actually affects on-the-job productivity.

The gender pay gap emerges as soon as women graduate , long before most women marry or take time out of the labor force to care for young children. The American Association of University Women has shown that a woman who goes to the same school, gets the same grades, has the same major, takes the same kind of job with similar workplace flexibility perks, and has the same personal characteristics-such as marital status, race, and number of children-as a male colleague earns 5 percent less the first year out of school. Ten years later, even if she keeps pace with the men around her, this research found that she’ll earn 12 percent less. How do we explain this to a young woman? She works hard, goes to college, and still, from day one at her new job, she’s not earning as much as the guy she sat next to in her last semester.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is an important step to end the need for an explanation that is inherently flawed. The House passed the legislation in January 2009, but the Senate has so far failed to act. This week, Senators Dodd and Mikulski filed the Paycheck Fairness Act as an amendment to a small business jobs bill, which makes sense.

The recession has underscored the importance of addressing the gender pay gap-and amplified the importance of women’s wages to families. Over the course of the Great Recession, men have lost more jobs than women, leaving millions of families relying on a woman’s wage to make ends meet. Because of the recession, the share of adult men with a job has shrunk to lows not seen since the Great Depression. Because of the large job losses among men and long-term trends toward greater levels of women’s employment, for the first time in October 2009, women became half of all U.S. payroll workers.

Vice President Biden made a great suggestion Tuesday, encouraging every senator to think long and hard before he or she casts a vote:

It is an issue that you’re going to have to look into the eyes of your granddaughters and you’re going to have to look into the eyes of the young women who you have hired, the young women who in fact are equally as qualified as any man you’ve ever hired and say, when it came time I didn’t step up….Get on the right side. Get on the right side now. Pass this act.