Five years ago Wednesday, President Obama signed his first piece of legislation: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In a move to help address the gender wage gap, the act gave people who experience pay discrimination more time to file a complaint.
But the wage gap, which currently stands at 77 cents paid to women for every dollar a man makes, hasn’t improved one bit since then — there hasn’t been a decrease in the gap since 2007, and it actually widened a bit in the years after the act was signed. So what else can be done to make progress on ensuring equal pay?
End salary secrecyCurrently, about half of all workers are either banned or discouraged from discussing pay with each other. That presents a huge barrier for those who suspect they may be unfairly paid less. The Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit any bans against discussing pay with coworkers. But while that takes an act of Congress to pass, Lilly Ledbetter herself has proposed that President Obama do something on his own. He could issue an executive order to ban federal contractors from retaliating against workers who share information on pay with each other. That would impact 26 million workers, or 22 percent of the workforce.
Raise the minimum wageWomen make up two-thirds of the country’s minimum wage workers. But the minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation — it hasn’t been raised in more than four years and would be over $10 if it had kept pace since the 1960s — and isn’t enough to keep a parent out of poverty. A raise would boost income for 13.1 million women. And experiences on the state level bear out the idea that a higher wage means a smaller gap: states that have higher wages than the $7.25 federal floor have a gender wage gap that is three cents smaller on average than everywhere else.
Offer universal preschool and paid family leaveJust 51 percent of three-year-olds and 69 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs, while the cost of private childcare has skyrocketed. The U.S. is also one of just a few countries around the world that don’t guarantee paid maternity leave. But women’s wages suffer when they have to interrupt their careers to care for their children: A bit more than 10 percent of the wage gap is thanks to the fact that women often spend less time in the labor force than men. Mothers with regular childcare are twice as likely to stay in their jobs than those without, which ensures a steady work history and advancement that can boost their pay. Because many women are only able to take unpaid time off, a quarter either quit their jobs or are let go when a new child arrives. On the other hand, women who get paid family leave are much more likely to see their wages go up afterward than those who get no paid time off.