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No Mad Men Pay

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It’s Long Past Time To Close The Gender Wage Gap

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day that marks how much longer the average woman has to work into 2014 to make the same amount as a man made in 2013. Because women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, that amounts to almost 60 extra workdays and 100 extra days in total.

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Women are the sole or co-breadwinners in the great majority of families, yet women working at all income levels tend to be paid less. It should not be more difficult for women and their families to get ahead. It’s illegal to pay women less, but gender discrimination in pay exists. It’s time to make equal pay for equal work a reality.

President Obama marking the day by signing two new executive orders that remove barriers to ensure equal pay for equal work. This issue has been a priority for Obama ever since the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill he signed into law. But pay secrecy stands in the way to enforcing equal pay laws since a woman who doesn’t know she is underpaid can’t take action to close the gap. That’s where the new executive orders come in:

1. Prohibit Federal Contractors From Retaliating Against Employees Who Discuss Compensation. Employees who chose to discuss their pay should not be put at risk of losing their job, being demoted, or denied a job opportunity. Too often, rules prohibiting discussions about pay are used to protect discriminatory practices from coming to light and create a culture of secrecy that has no place in the 21st century American workplace.

2. Require Federal Contractors To Report Data on Pay by Sex and Race. For years, federal enforcement agencies have been limited in their ability to combat pay discrimination because they do not have regular information about how much all federal contractors pay their employees. Having accurate information about an employer’s pay practices is essential in enforcing the law effectively and vigorously.

These executive actions send a clear signal that the administration wants to end pay discrimination. More than two-thirds of voters agree. But it is up to Congress to pass a law to ensure that these rules apply to all businesses, not just those who receive taxpayer dollars. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which the Senate is voting on this week, would do just that. Unfortunately, only 54 Senators are signed onto the bill and numerous members of the GOP seem to think that equal pay just isn’t that important or even that pay discrimination doesn’t exist at all. Mitch McConnell (the Senate’s top Republican!) called it a “bizarre obsession.

That is just not true. Women earn less when they get the same education, they earn less when they balance children and careers, and they earn less because of discrimination. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn less in virtually every job category. So enough about that.

But equal pay is not only an important equity issue, it is also vital economic concern. If women earned equal pay for equal work, our economy would boost GDP by 2.9 percent or almost $450 billion and cut the poverty rate in half for working women.

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BOTTOM LINE: Times have changed since the Mad Men era, but our workplaces have failed to keep up. President Obama has taken an important step today in ending pay secrecy for federal contractors, but it is time for Congress to act to bring workplace policies for all into the 21st century. That means passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, and doing everything it can to make sure that women and their families have a fair shot to succeed.