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DeLauro: It's Time to Close the Wage Gap

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a strong fair-pay advocate, says 2009 will bring advancements for women's wages. First part of a series on members of Congress who are advancing issues raised in the WeNews' Memo series.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a strong fair-pay advocate, says 2009 will bring advancements for women's wages. First part of a series on members of Congress who are advancing issues raised in the WeNews' Memo series.

This Series was the WINNER of the Exceptional Merit in Media Awards 2010

Exceptional Internet Story The Memo: Special Report: Status of U.S. Women by Rita Henley Jensen, Jennifer Waldref, Sharon Johnson, Allison Stevens, Cynthia L. Cooper, Marie Tessier, Lorraine Orlandi, Women's eNews



Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Connecticut Democrat, says now is the time to put the squeeze on the wage gap.

Congress appears to agree.

The House passed on Friday two bills to bolster women's economic security: one is designed to reverse a 2007 Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult for women to sue for wage bias and the other strengthens existing pay equity laws.

The Senate could consider the bills as early as this week, ready to be placed on President Barack Obama's desk for signature immediately after he takes office.

"I'm very, very optimistic that with a new administration, in a new environment, with President-elect Obama using and talking about this as a major portion of his campaign, that . . . it can be one of the first pieces of new legislation that this president signs," DeLauro said in a recent interview.

More than four decades after Congress passed a law making it illegal for employers to pay women less than men who do the same job, women still earn less.

In 2007 women made 78 cents for every dollar a man earned, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, D.C. The overall wage gap among all workers is significantly more when low-paying, female-dominant job sectors are factored in, according to the institute.

Different occupations, education levels, job tenure, work hours and other factors associated with pay don't explain away pay differences, according to a 2005 study by the American Association of University Women, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

Advocating for Equal Rights

A staunch advocate for women's rights, DeLauro spoke about the subject on a panel discussion sponsored by Women's eNews at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last August and at a session sponsored by Lifetime Television Networks.

She revisited the issue in a recent interview with Women's eNews.

Tougher pay equity laws, DeLauro said, are needed now more than ever because women bear the brunt of economic downturns.

Not only do women earn less than men, they are also more likely than men to make minimum wage, according to the National Center for Research on Women in New York.

They are also more likely to hold part-time positions, which often carry few if any benefits, according to the Department of Labor. Women are also more likely to leave the work force to handle caregiving responsibilities and have smaller retirement accounts.

"What undergirds all that is the fact that women make less," DeLauro said.

DeLauro hopes that will begin to change with passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gives victims of wage bias more time to file suit for discrimination.

Under current law--as it was recently interpreted by the Supreme Court--a victim must file a complaint with the government within 180 days of the discriminatory event. But many women don't learn of the bias until long after that time limit has expired.

Learned Too Late

That was the case with Lilly Ledbetter, a former employee at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Alabama who at 60 found out her employer had for years been paying her substantially less than her male counterparts for the same work. (Women's eNews named Ledbetter a 2009 Leader for the 21st Century because of her work campaigning for fair pay.)

Ledbetter sued and won, but ultimately lost her case in a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in 2007. In a dissent from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg urged Congress to pass legislation to reverse the decision.

Lawmakers responded with a bill that would restore the so-called paycheck-accrual rule,