You know, it’s hard to build the future if you don’t start by honoring the past. And March is Women’s History Month, a great time to remember that women’s work helped build this country. It’s also an important time to make sure that women’s work is valued. Not just with fine words, but with fair pay.
It’s been 44 years since the equal pay law was first passed, and there’s been a lot of progress since then. So many barriers have been shattered. The possibilities for my daughter’s generation exceed anything my mother could have imagined even when I was growing up.
But here we are at the beginning of the 21st century and women still earn significantly less money than men for doing the same jobs. Women who work full time year round earn just 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. And for women of color it’s even less. Sixty-seven cents for African American women for every dollar a man makes. And just 56 cents for Latinas.
You know, that’s a huge difference every single week, when it comes to paying the rent or the mortgage, or buying groceries or school supplies, or covering the doctor’s bills. Over a lifetime the numbers really add up. Working women stand to lose a quarter of a million dollars over the course of their careers because of unequal pay practices.
And this is a problem for women no matter where we work. I read a story recently that Wimbledon finally agreed to pay their women tennis champions the same amount of prize money as their male champions. It only took 123 years for them to do the right thing.
So what do we do? Well I’m introducing a new bill called the Paycheck Fairness Act to help closed the pay gap for women.
First, it offers women meaningful remedies for pay discrimination by toughening the penalties for violating the Equal Pay Act. Now that should help stop employers from discriminating against women.
Second, it makes sure our government enforces equal pay laws in our own federal contracts. Millions of women are employed through federal contracts. We should at least be a model to the private sector about giving women an equal paycheck for equal work.
Third, this bill prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information. Right now when women try to find out if they are being treated fairly by asking around about what others get paid, they can get in trouble or even be fired. This bill would make that illegal.
And finally, this bill requires the Department of Labor to continue collecting and disseminating information about women workers. You wouldn’t think you would need a law to do that.
But the Bush administration has stopped collecting some valuable information about women in the workplace. As with so many things, they seem to think that the problems will go away if they make the facts go away.
Well, I want to get back into the reality business, with real solutions to the real problems people face.
That’s why I’m also working to expand family and medical leave to cover sick leave; to increase funding for research into the connection between diseases like breast cancer and environmental hazards; to insure that Title IX continues, so that young women can compete.
And we also have to make sure that we stay vigilant about protecting a woman’s right to choose and smart about making family planning available.
I hope you’ll join this conversation about these and other important issues. This is Women’s History Month, so let’s keep the conversation going about women, about our past, and most definitely, about our future.
If history has taught us nothing else, it’s that if we work together, we can do anything. Thanks for listening.