September 25, 2014

REMEMBER THE LADIES | Give Equal Pay the Vote

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By JENNIFER MANDELBLATT

The gridlock in Congress has convinced us to expect less and to accept that the progress we so desire will not take root in our society. We see this as fact, and not, as we should, as a betrayal of the promise of our government. We often forget that our government has an incredible ability to do right by the people because the light shines much more brightly on its limitations. And last week, when Senate Republicans blocked an up or down vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, the American promise of equality became even more dim.

Without the Paycheck Fairness Act, the loopholes undermining Equal Pay for Equal Work persist. As a result, women of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses continue to be paid less. This weakens the economy, communities and especially now that “four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner,” the impact of the wage gap is detrimental to families. But at that core of it, every paycheck a woman receives that is a percentage less than her male counterparts is a statement that she is less.

This reality for women in low-wage jobs makes it even more difficult for them to make ends meet. Just days before the cloture vote, Senator Mikulski, the bill’s sponsor, reminded her colleagues of Latoya Weaver’s story: “A single parent of three children working in guest services at a hotel. [Ms. Weaver] found out that her pay of $8 an hour was $2 less than the males doing the same job.”

Weaver’s company did not allow employees to discuss pay; thus, she suffered from discrimination but was not allowed the knowledge to do anything about it. The Paycheck Fairness Act would protect women in similar situations because it would solidify employers’ inability to retaliate against workers who discuss their pay.

Many will try to discredit Weaver’s experience by arguing that women only earn less because of their life choices, including education paths and choices to leave the workforce for caretaker roles. However, while these factors contribute to the wage gap, a study done by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) reveals that there is still a discrepancy in pay even after accounting for such variations.

For college graduates, a study done for the Journal of the American Medical

Association found, “Women still earned an unexplained $13,399 less than their male colleagues did each year, even after the authors considered and controlled for factors that had a significant effect on salary, including specialty, age, parental status, additional graduate degrees, academic rank, institution type, grant funding, publications, work hours and time spent in research.”

The experiences of Ms. Weaver as well as the women in study underscore the fact that women are undervalued and underpaid. While the Equal Pay Act and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act were of course essential steps toward remedying the pay gap, they left open loopholes that we need the Paycheck Fairness Act to close.

This nation’s values are derived from the central belief that hard work, above all else, determines success. It is therefore essential to the truth of our values that women earn equal pay for equal work. And it is essential to the promise of our government that this basic right gets a vote.

Jennifer Mandelblatt is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She may be reached at jpm367@cornell.edu. Remember the Ladies runs alternate Fridays this semester.