Pay Equity — Ancient History?January 12, 2009
At dinner this weekend, I was chatting with a young woman about the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I didn’t expect her to know about Ledbetter, but to my surprise, she didn’t know about the Paycheck Fairness Act or that women make only 78 cents to the dollar a man makes in comparable jobs.
“I think it’s only for a few lower-end jobs,” she stated. Her boyfriend, sitting next to us, chimed in with, “Beside’s it’s 88 cents, not 78 cents.” She nodded in agreement, since, (a) he’s a relatively new boyfriend and (b) “he works on the Hill, so he must know.”
I looked around the table at the other young women, most poised to turn their “quarter-century” birthday in the coming year, some of whom were now silent, listening to us. I too sat silently for a few seconds as I marshaled my knowledge on the subject, looking for an angle that would grab their attention. Straight statistics wouldn’t; detailing the acts themselves wouldn’t; even my own “when I was their age” story wouldn’t, as that ancient history (in their minds) wouldn’t pertain to them.
So I started telling them Lilly Ledbetter’s story. While it covers 30 years, the actions by the courts occurred in this century (ultimately by the Supreme Court in 2007). I told it like a movie plot, leading up to what the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was, in Lilly’s words:
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act … would address my Supreme Court decision by simply making sure that people can challenge discriminatory paychecks as long as they continue to receive them: after all, that’s what Congress intended all along when it passed the Civil Rights Act back in 1964.
There’s something about evoking the Civil Rights Act that still resonates with most. I then ended with a bit of research (couldn’t help myself), talking about AAUWs’ findings, especially in Behind the Pay Gap, as I knew the recentness of the report would have a greater impact. Even the boyfriend was silent. I told them why we were urging anyone interested in fairness to support these acts when they are presented in the Senate and why both are still so important.
The good news? They took Lilly’s story to heart and started asking all kinds of questions. They were incensed that equality has still not been achieved. I told them I would e-mail them the AAUW link not only for information but to take action. I realize that, for many young people, getting a job in their field still has priority over equal pay, especially in today’s economy. But, at the very least, they now know pay discrimination is not just “ancient history.”