The most recent data shows that women who work full time throughout the year make just 79 percent of what men doing the same make, and the gap shows up in virtually every job, every single industry, and at every education level. It’s even wider for women of color.
Yet when asked by members of the work/family organization Make It Work why he has voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act multiple times, a bill that would ban salary secrecy and strengthen protections against unequal pay, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) indicated that the gap shouldn’t even exist today. “It’s already illegal to pay women less than men,” he responded. “If I pay a woman less than a man for the same job, it’s illegal now. You can be sued now.”
Though he offered up lawsuits as the remedy for unequal pay, Rubio is against the Paycheck Fairness Act because it would result in more lawsuits. “The Paycheck [Fairness] Act, all it did was allow trial lawyers to sue,” he said. “The reason I voted against it is because…all it really did is just help lawyers sue.”
Yet women may need to bring more lawsuits, not fewer, to address unequal pay. Suits aren’t terribly common as it stands: there were less than 1,000 charges brought through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year. That could be because it takes time and resources to bring a case; it may also be because these suits are hard to win. Plaintiffs alleging pay discrimination have only won about a third of the cases brought over the last decade.
The candidate was also asked about his paid family leave proposal — the only one offered among the presidential field — which would give a tax break to companies that offer paid leave but not require that all Americans get the benefit. When asked to explain why he doesn’t propose a blanket mandate, he responded that doing so would force employers to fire people. “If you require companies to do it, what will happen is some of them can’t afford it, literally can’t afford it…and then [employees] won’t have a job to take leave from,” he said. “If you did the mandatory…you’re going to have companies that are going to be less likely to hire people.”
The policy favored by Democrats, on the other hand, endorsed by presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Martin O’Malley, would ensure that all Americans can access paid family leave through a social insurance program they and their employers would pay into through a 0.2 percent payroll tax. Such models already exist in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, and in California, which has had it the longest, job growth has outpaced the national average since it was enacted. Businesses there and in New Jersey say that the policies have had either a positive or neutral impact on their finances.