Happy Birthday, Equal Pay Act!


Even those with the most basic idea of feminism—even those who insist they are not feminists—still subscribe to the notion that women should receive equal pay for equal work.

Back on June 10, 1963, that notion became law, as President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which prohibited employers from paying employees of one sex less than the rate paid to those of the opposite sex for jobs requiring “equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.”

The law helped raise women’s wages to a higher percentage vis-a-vis men’s, but full equity has still not been achieved. We need laws with stronger enforcement tools and more adequate remedies against paycheck discrimination. Here’s what House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had to say today about where we’ve come from, and the direction forward we should be taking:

It has been 51 years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, affirming women’s right to equal pay for equal work, and taking an important first step to ending the injustice of paying women less than men for the same work.  In the decades since, our nation has continued to take steps towards paycheck fairness, including the landmark Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law in 2009. However, there is still much, much more to be done.

Even today, women on average earn only 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. For African American women and Latinas the pay gap is even larger. African American women on average earn only 64 cents and Latinas on average earn only 54 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. By the time she turns 65, the average woman will have lost $431,000 to the earnings gap.

If we are to unleash the full potential of women in our economy, we must work to close this gap. Pay disparity weakens our families and erodes the middle class—the backbone of our democracy. It is time for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, and enact an agenda that renews the enduring truth of our nation: When women succeed, America succeeds. For when women earn equal pay for equal work, we know our economy will prosper and our society will thrive.  Today, let us draw strength from the progress we have made, and rededicate ourselves to achieving fairness for all America’s women.

Photo of President John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963, surrounded by members of the American Association of University Women, from Wikimedia Commons