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What the Paycheck Fairness Act Would Do for Women, Families, and the Wage Gap

Eduardo Porter’s article last week in The New York Times, Motherhood Still a Cause of Pay Inequality, has a good discussion of the gender wage gap – it highlights the slowed progress in closing the gap and discusses many of the issues that contribute to women’s lower pay including occupational segregation, caregiving responsibilities, and discrimination.

However, Porter gets it wrong when he says that passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed to get a vote in the Senate last week, might actually increase women’s unemployment. As Fatima Goss Graves debunked this myth in our blog:

Opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act complain that the bill will hurt the economy and increase unemployment among women. These are not new arguments when it comes to fair employment laws – in fact, some of these same arguments were made 50 years ago when the Equal Pay Act itself was passed. It was not true when the Equal Pay Act first banned sex discrimination in compensation and it will not be true when the Paycheck Fairness Act improves that law – smart, responsible employers will continue to seek out the talent of women to fill their positions. And improving the fair pay laws may result lower rates of employee turnover – when employees believe that they are fairly compensated, they are less likely to leave their place of employment for better paying jobs.

Porter rightly contends that flexible workplaces, predictable hours, and paid family leave would help close the wage gap. We couldn’t agree more and cheer companies, states, and countries taking these steps.

But there are many causes of the wage gap, including discrimination, all of which need addressing. And, as economist Nancy Folbre argues in Porter’s article, “…equal pay laws are needed anyway because they change the norms of society. Tightening the civil rights-era law to force employers to offer equal pay for equal work by equally qualified workers would encourage them to think twice about their pay practices and temper the tendency to subconsciously discriminate against women.”

Luckily we don’t have to choose - we can have laws that protect women from discrimination AND laws that help workers balance work and family responsibilities. And that’s good – because it’s unacceptable to think that women should tolerate discrimination to have a job.

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