North Carolina women deserve equal pay for equal work

Apr. 10, 2014 @ 04:41 PM

In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act making equal pay for equal work the rule of law. Yet 51 years later, pay discrimination continues to shortchange working North Carolina women and their families.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, we recognized Equal Pay Day -- the day American women's earnings finally catch up to what men earned the previous calendar year. Although our nation is taking steps in the right direction towards pay equality, North Carolina women still lag behind their male counterparts in salary. On average, women in North Carolina still make only 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male colleagues.

In 2014, that is simply unacceptable. There is no excuse to pay equally qualified and equally performing women less than their male colleagues simply because of their gender. As our economy recovers, equal pay serves as more than just principle; it is about ensuring that middle class families across North Carolina can put food on the table and make ends meet.

The first bill I co-sponsored in the Senate was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which guarantees that workers who have been discriminated against have the right to hold those responsible accountable. Helping this bill become law was one of my proudest moments in Washington, and I continue to work hard everyday on behalf of working women and their families.

But our work is not done.

Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This important bill closes loopholes in our existing equal pay laws by prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about or share salary information, providing assistance to businesses regarding equal pay practices, and empowering women to better negotiate salary and benefit increases. Equal work deserves equal pay, and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act is a step toward equality.

This isn’t just a women’s issue -- it’s an economic one. Women make up 47 percent of North Carolina’s workforce. And with more and more women becoming their family’s primary breadwinner or significant income contributor, every penny matters for their bottom lines.

As a group, women who are employed full time in North Carolina lose approximately $9.8 billion each year due to the wage gap. That’s money that could be spent on a down payment or mortgage for a home, put away for their child’s college savings, or invested in a secure retirement.

And for the nearly 182,000 North Carolina households headed by women with incomes below the poverty line, closing the wage gap would help put food on the table, gas in the car and pay basic necessities like rent and utilities.  In fact, closing the wage gap would allow a working woman in our state to afford 63 more weeks -- that’s 1.2 years -- of food, six more months of mortgage and utilities payments, 10 more months of rent or 2,213 additional gallons of gas. And, until we raise the minimum wage, the two-thirds of minimum wage workers in North Carolina who are women will continue to work hard without a fair payoff.

This has a real impact on a woman’s ability to support her family and invest in its future. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a commonsense bill that will ultimately help stimulate our economy, boost middle class families, and increase women’s economic security.

I am deeply disappointed that this legislation was blocked in the Senate this week only one day after we recognized Equal Pay Day. Ensuring equal pay for equal work is about helping women and their families get ahead, not partisan political gamesmanship. I believe it’s more important than ever for my colleagues to work across the aisle and pass this bill to help hardworking women and their families achieve the American Dream.

As a mother, I raised my daughters, and my son, to understand that men and women are equals. But until women earn equal pay for equal work, women are not equal partners in the workforce. As one of only twenty women serving in the U.S. Senate, I know that women have waited long enough. It is time for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Kay Hagan is U. S. senator from North Carolina.