Mar 30, 2023 - Politics

Pay equity advocates, including Patty Murray, try again in Congress

Patty Murray stands at left holding a blue sign that says "Close the Wage Gap: Pass Paycheck Fairness" as she speaks into a microphone, accompanied by another member of Congress.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), at right, speaks about the Paycheck Fairness Act at the U.S. Capitol on March 9. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

An effort to bolster equal pay protections in federal law is back before Congress, though supporters aren't optimistic.

Why it matters: Since 1963, it's been illegal to pay women and men differently if they're doing substantially equal work. Backers of the Paycheck Fairness Act want to end remaining loopholes they say still exist.

The latest: U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is leading the charge in the Senate.

  • In 25 years, the measure has passed the House four times. The closest it got in the Senate was 13 years ago, when it fell two votes short of the 60 needed to move forward.

Details: The act would stop the use of salary history in hiring and ban potential retaliation if employees discuss their salaries.

  • It would also require employers to prove that pay disparities are connected to legitimate reasons, such as education or experience.

Zoom in: Washington state has one of the highest gender pay gaps of any state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Here in the Evergreen State, men who work full time earn a median annual wage about $14,600 higher than their female counterparts, according to census data.
  • Seattle also has one of the highest gender pay gaps among 25 major cities analyzed by the American Association of University Women, with local women who work full time earning 78% of what men make.
  • For Black and Hispanic women in Seattle, the gap is even starker: they make 56% and 51%, respectively, of the median male salary.

What they're saying: "Women are getting shortchanged," Murray said at the bill's reintroduction. "And they have been for a really long time."

Zoom out: The wage gap connects to other financial disadvantages women face, such as disparities in student debt.

  • Women hold between 58% and 66% of outstanding student loans, which total over $1.6 trillion nationally.
  • Part of this discrepancy may be tied back to the pay gender gap, which persists despite equal education. A 2022 GAO report found that "among workers with a bachelor's degree, women earned an estimated 70 cents for every dollar earned by men."
  • "Obviously, when you earn less, you're going to take longer to pay it back, you're going to pay more interest," Gloria Blackwell, CEO of the AAUW, told Axios. "It builds upon itself and makes economic security for women more and more difficult."

What's next: U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the longtime sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, calls passing it a no-brainer. But she acknowledges the measure does not have an easy path.

  • It's been referred to committees in both the House and Senate.

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