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ast weekend, I was looking for a picture I wanted to show my daughter, and pulled out a box of old photographs from a shelf in the basement. The pictures of my mother and my aunts were wonderful-old hairstyles, dresses with big petticoats and hats-and-gloves for going out. As we sifted through the pictures, I thought about how life had changed for women over the last fifty years. Women doctors and scientists, women union leaders and small business owners. I also thought about how life had not changed. Across the board, women still earn less than men.
When President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963, women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man. While the wage gap has narrowed somewhat since then, women today still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
Over their careers, that means they take home hundreds of thousands of dollars less than men. For middle class families, it takes two incomes to get by these days, and many families depend as much, if not more, on Mom’s salary as they do on Dad’s. And for single-parent households, lower salaries make it that much harder to stay afloat.
The wage gap also compounds the nation’s student debt problem. Although women and men borrow roughly the same amount of money to pay for college, women only make 82 cents on the dollar compared to men one year after graduating. This means that as a percentage of income, many young women bear a greater student loan debt burden than young men. In an already difficult job market, with student loan debt at an all-time high, unequal pay compounds the challenges young women face.
It’s clear that making sure women receive equal pay for equal work is a key part of our work to rebuild our economy and strengthen America’s middle class. We need to focus on creating a level playing field to help working women earn what they’re worth.
That’s why I was proud to co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The Paycheck Fairness Act amends the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to ensure that wage differences are the result of factors such as education, training, or experience, rather than gender. It increases protection against retaliation, strengthens enforcement mechanisms, and authorizes training programs and assistance to small businesses
Earlier this spring, the Senate passed a budget amendment supporting efforts to close the wage gap. This is an important first step, but there’s still more work to be done.
Closing the wage gap will help both women and men here in Massachusetts. At a time when the economy is still hurting, women are essential to making sure working families in the Commonwealth and across the country can get by. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, we need to recommit ourselves to passing the Paycheck Fairness Act and finally making the idea of equal pay for equal work a reality.
When the Equal Pay Act was first passed, many people believed women weren’t worth as much as men in the job market. We’ve made changes, but until the reality reflects equal pay for women, all of us-and all of our daughters-will pay a price.
I want every little girl to grow up thinking about becoming a doctor or a scientist, a union leader or a small business owner. I don’t want her to have to think about how she will get by on wages that are lower just because she is female. It is time to adopt the Paycheck Fairness Act so that pay inequality can go the way of the big petticoat.