Unequal pay for women is neither a myth nor a distraction

June 13, 2012

By Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto)

Just a few weeks ago, conservative pundits Alex Castellanos and Dana Perino deemed unequal pay for women a "myth" and a "distraction." Others actually said that equal laws for women would result in lower pay for men. That is nonsense. The gender wage gap is not a myth, and Congress needs to act against this appalling disparity.

Study after study by economists, other experts and the Government Accountability Office have demonstrated that women are being paid less than their male colleagues for the same work across age, occupation and educational levels. A 2012 analysis of occupation and wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that men out-earned women in 19 of the top 20 most common occupations for women last year, as well as 19 of the top 20 most common occupations for men.

A 2007 study by the American Association of University Women found a 12 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates 10 years after graduation -- after accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race, ethnicity, region, marital status and number of children. A comprehensive report by the Government Accountability Office found a similar gap. If anyone doubts these statistics, I suggest some homework: Ask your mother, your wife, daughter or sister.

In the past, this basic fact has not been in dispute. More than a half-century ago, a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, told Congress that "legislation to apply the principle of equal pay for equal work without discrimination because of sex is a matter of simple justice." What Eisenhower called "simple justice," today's conservatives deem a "myth" and a "distraction."

Wrongheaded remarks like these also reflect the fundamental inability to comprehend the financial pressures women and their families are facing in this economy. Pay inequity hurts not only women but families, especially the more than two-thirds of American families in which women are either breadwinners or co-breadwinners. When women are paid less, families have less take-home pay to make ends meet and make the economy grow.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is the next step forward. It ensures that employers who try to justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job must show that the disparity is not sex-based, but job-related and necessary. It prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who discuss or disclose their own salary information with their co-workers, and it strengthens the remedies available to wronged employees.

Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act passed a half-century ago. It is essential to closing the gender wage gap and promoting the economic security of women and their families. Pay inequity due to gender discrimination is neither a myth nor a distraction. It is real, it should not be tolerated, and we need to take action against it.

Published in the June 13th, 2012 edition of the San Jose Mercury News.