The Equal Pay Act at 54: Looking Ahead to Next-Gen Solutions

Tomorrow, the Equal Pay Act, one of the most important federal laws protecting women from pay discrimination, turns 54. Although the gender wage gap has narrowed significantly since 1963, overt discrimination, stereotypes, and implicit bias, combined with factors like occupational segregation and workplace practices that don’t reflect today’s realities, mean that working women — especially women of color and mothers — are still getting shortchanged.
That’s why policy solutions that will strengthen the Equal Pay Act and make it easier to uncover and challenge discrimination, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, are so critical. This year, the Paycheck Fairness Act includes a new provision banning employers from asking applicants about their current or previous salary, or from relying on that salary history to set compensation. A standalone salary history bill has been introduced and is pending in Congress, too — the Pay Equity for All Act.
As our new fact sheet explains, employers’ use of salary history ensures that pay disparities and past discrimination follow women and people of color from job to job. Prohibiting employers from asking about or using salary history ensures that pay decisions are made based on the requirements of the position, the value the employer places on the job, and the applicant’s education and skills — like it should be.
The salary history ban is an example of the next generation of equal pay laws, and it’s the direct result of state experiments with new and innovative policy solutions to address some of the persistent barriers to closing the wage gap and creating equal opportunity for women at work. Given the current Administration and Congress, it’s no surprise that recent progress in the fight for equal pay is happening at the state level.
In the last year, more than 20 states and cities have introduced salary history bans. Last summer, Massachusetts was the first place in the country to pass a salary history ban, and its example has spread like wildfire. Since then, Oregon, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City, and Puerto Rico have followed, and bills in Delaware and Illinois are awaiting the governor’s signature. New York State, New York City, and New Orleans issued executive orders banning public employers from using salary history.
These innovations are vital to the fight for equal pay, but they can’t be the only solution. In order to close the wage gap, advance women’s equality, and help women and their families achieve economic security, our policymakers need to advance a comprehensive policy agenda that would:

  • Lift up the wages of women in low-wage jobs by raising the minimum wage and ensuring that tipped workers receive at least the regular minimum wage before tips, through legislation like the Raise the Wage Act.
  • Help prevent and remedy caregiver discrimination, and protecting workers from pregnancy discrimination with legislation like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
  • Establish fair scheduling practices that allow employees to meet their caregiving responsibilities and other obligations.
  • Provide workers with paid family and medical leave and paid sick days through the FAMILY Act and the Healthy Families Act.
  • Increase access to high-quality, affordable child care.
  • Ensure women’s access to the affordable reproductive health care they need.
  • Build ladders to better paying jobs for women by removing barriers to entry into male-dominated fields.
  • Protect workers’ ability to collectively bargain.

Let’s not make working women and the families who depend on them wait another 54 years for the economic security they deserve.