The Equal Pay Act at 55: Looking Back and Looking Forward

June 07, 2018
AAUW staff stand behind former President Barack Obama on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act

AAUW staff stand behind former President Barack Obama on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.

This Sunday, June 10 marks the 55th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Upon signing the bill into law, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that it “affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelope.” AAUW members at the time fought for this important law and stood with the president as he signed it. Half a century later, I stood with President Barack Obama as he commemorated the 50th anniversary of this landmark law.

We have stood; we have marched; we have engaged new generations of activists who organize in ways we could never have dreamed of in 1963; yet, we are also still waiting to find that equality in our pay envelopes. The gender pay gap is real, and it’s not going away with the status quo. While the gap has narrowed since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, progress has largely stalled in the 21st century.  When the bill was enacted, the pay gap on average was 59 cents.  Today, women still only make, on average, 80 cents on the dollar as compared to men, and it’s even worse for women of color who feel the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

The gender pay gap develops early in women’s careers and then compounds through retirement. Controlling for factors known to affect earnings such as education and training, marital status, and hours worked, research found that college-educated women still earn 7 percent less than men just one year out of college — even when they have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts.

Tired of waiting for equality in your pay envelope? Let’s give the Equal Pay Act something it really needs on its 55th birthday: an update. AAUW has been on the frontlines to close the wage gap from the beginning and we will be there to end it once and for all.

AAUW has committed to closing the wage gap by 2030 and there are a few ways we can do it together:

Urge Congress to Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a federal bill that strengthens and updates the Equal Pay Act by providing additional protections against sex-based pay discrimination. The bill bars retaliation against workers who voluntarily discuss or disclose their wages. It closes loopholes that have allowed employers to pay women less than men for the same work without a business necessity that is related to the job. It also ensures women can receive the same robust remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subjected to discrimination based on race and ethnicity. This bill prohibits employers from relying on salary history in determining future pay, so that pay discrimination doesn’t follow workers from job to job. And it also provides much needed training and technical assistance, as well as wage data collection and research.

Support the Federal Pay Data Collection and Encourage Employer Fair Pay Practices

In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) created a wage data collection, designed to help the EEOC better identify trends with respect to discrimination in pay based on gender, race or ethnicity. Data is necessary to identify trends of problematic pay practices, as well as to encourage employers to proactively correct improper pay disparities they find. However, in August 2017, the Trump administration halted the implementation of the salary data collection. However, the decision was not a final one. The EEOC has the power to move forward by submitting this data collection again and we must urge them to act.

Advocate at the State and Local Level

It is important to continue the fight for additional protections at the federal level so they are uniform across the nation, but as the federal government has been slow to act, women refuse to wait for progress. Red, blue, and purple states alike are taking the initiative and passing equal pay laws. And as we work for changes in the federal and state laws, AAUW continues to fund cases and support litigation challenging pay discrimination through our Legal Advocacy Fund.

Strengthen Your Negotiation Skills

At AAUW we are committing to empower women to negotiate their own financial futures by training 10 million women through our Work Smart salary negotiation programs by 2022. The trainings help women identify their market value and give them the tools to advocate for higher wages.

Be a Leader

A recent AAUW report found that not only are women underrepresented in leadership in the corporate world, they are significantly underrepresented in leadership in nonprofit, educational, and philanthropic organizations as well. And worse still, the leadership gap exacerbates the pay gap for women. The report provides recommendations for providing support and more pathways for women’s leadership and financial advancement.

Wage disparities are real, pernicious, and they harm families’ financial stability. We must fully enforce our current civil rights laws, as well as employ new tactics in order to close the gap once and for all.  We’ve learned a lot in the last 55 years when it comes to how to make pay equity a reality and it’s time to put those lessons into practice. We should no longer be waiting to find equality in our pay envelopes. We need to get it for ourselves.


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Deborah J. Vagins By:   |   June 07, 2018

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