United States' Senate Sidesteps Wage Equality Issue


Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 13:02 p.m. DST, 15 April 2014

U.S. Capitol in Early Morning, Photo by Elizabeth Buie WASHINGTON, DC--The votes have been cast. The message is clear. Collectively, the United States does not yet prioritize wage equality between men and women.

On Wednesday, Senate members voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill proposing more safeguards against pay discrimination. Currently, corporations are given the benefit of the doubt when employees raise concerns about unequal compensation. The proposal sought to change this.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is an addendum to two historically groundbreaking statutes. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 provided baseline protections for women entering the workforce. This 75-year-old document set the precedent that employers can explain pay differentials by any factor besides gender. While radical in its day, many believe supplemental laws are necessary.

The defeated legislation also included amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Notably, it would increase the role of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, giving this department oversight and enforcement power. Companies would be mandated to report the sex, race, nationality and income of their workforce, in order to achieve greater consistency.

The bill is a response to well-documented pay disparities between male and female colleagues. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that for every dollar a man makes, his female counterpart will bring home 77 cents. Critics of the study argue that differences in education, hourly-workload and job-type explain the pay gap.

Even so, there is a body of evidence confirming the persistence of sex-discrimination. The Government Accountability Office published a salient study of workplace inequity, examining statistics from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and referencing sociological experts. Their findings? While controlling for all variables, a woman is paid only 80% of a man's earnings.

In spite of the overwhelming data, the Senate could not reach a consensus Wednesday. Republican senators like Mitch McConnell and Rob Portman spoke out against the measure, stating that it would allow for frivolous lawsuits in the future. To many Americans, this reasoning is simply a talking point. Thankfully, the judicial branch has safeguards against unfounded court cases; they can be thrown out.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would not overextend women's rights. It would serve as a protective document in helping female employees gain their rightful pay. The bill's provisions are not all punitive, either. This legislation would have created the "Secretary of Labor's National Award for Pay Equity in the Workplace" to recognize businesses who actively work against sex discrimination. Greater transparency would be a welcome change. 

This is the third time the Paycheck Fairness Act has been struck down, and every Republican, male and female, voted against the initiative. Perhaps, opponents of the act may have forgotten that the bill could help men and women alike. The effects of inequality reach farther than purses and pocketbooks of American females. Two-income households would see an incremental pay increase. And pay equality would give single mothers a fighting chance to support their families. Surely, prioritizing everyday Americans would strengthen communities and economies nationwide. 

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