by Jocelyn Samuels

Although it has been illegal for more than 40 years to pay women less than men for the same work, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn and the gap is even greater for women of color.   Today, Equal Pay Day, marks that sad reality: it is the day when women’s combined earnings from 2006 and the beginning of 2007 finally equal what men earned in 2006.

The consequences of these inequities are profound and far-reaching.  Over their lifetimes, for example, female high school graduates will earn $700,000 less than male graduates.  And one study has found that paying people equally for equal work would reduce the poverty rates of single mothers by half.

But despite what you may have heard people say, women are not choosing to earn less money than their male peers.

In fact, as a comprehensive nonpartisan Government Accountability Office study has found, the evidence is strong that discrimination plays a significant role in the wage gap that women still face.  Thus, the wage gap cannot be explained by choices women make to take time off from the workplace, work part-time, or take lower-paying jobs.  Even when they do the same work, women still make less than men. 

The Congress can change this unfair situation.  It has two bills pending before it that would ensure that equal pay becomes a reality for female workers: the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would improve remedies and procedures for women challenging pay discrimination; and the Fair Pay Act, which would ensure that women in traditionally female fields make as much as similarly qualified men in traditionally male occupations.  I testified in favor of both bills at a hearing before the Senate HELP Committee on April 12. 

Women deserve equal pay.  It’s the best gift we can give the country for Equal Pay Day.

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