Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Why Equal Pay Is Worth Fighting For

PHOTO: In this file photo, Sen. Elizabeth Warren questions Janet Yellen, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, Feb. 27, 2014.

I honestly can’t believe that we’re still arguing over equal pay in 2014.

When I started teaching elementary school after college, the public school district didn't hide the fact that it had two pay scales: one for men and one for women. Women have made incredible strides since then. But 40 years later, we’re still debating equal pay for equal work.

Women today still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, and they’re taking a hit in nearly every occupation. Bloomberg analyzed Census data and found that median earnings for women were lower than those for men in 264 of 265 major occupation categories. In 99.6 percent of occupations, men get paid more than women. That’s not an accident; that’s discrimination.

The effects of this discrimination are real, and they are long lasting. Today, more young women go to college than men, but unequal pay makes it harder for them to pay back student loans. Pay inequality also means a tougher retirement for women. In Massachusetts, the average woman who collects Social Security will receive about $3,000 less every year compared to a man in a similar position, because benefits are tied to how much people earn when working.

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For middle-class families today, it usually takes two incomes to get by, and many families depend as much on Mom’s salary as they do on Dad’s, if not more. Women are the main breadwinners, or joint breadwinners, in two-thirds of the families across the country, and pay discrimination makes it that much harder for these families to stay afloat.

Women are ready to fight back against pay discrimination, but it’s not easy. Today, a woman can get fired for asking the guy across the hall how much money he makes. Here in the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act to give women the tools to combat wage discrimination. It would help ensure that salary differences have something to do with the actual job that they are doing, and not just because they are women.

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This is a common-sense proposal—no discrimination, no retaliation when women ask how much the guys are getting paid, and basic data that tell us how much men and women are getting paid for key jobs. Basic protection, basic information – that’s essentially all this bill does. Employers can still pay different workers different salaries based on factors like skill, performance, expertise, seniority, and so forth—the Paycheck Fairness Act doesn’t touch any of that.

Even while women still earn less than men in 99.6 percent of occupations, Senate Republicans won’t even let the Senate vote on a bill to help make the workplace a little fairer for women. They just filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act for a third time, telling women that we don’t need paycheck fairness.

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This should be a no-brainer. America’s women are tired of hearing that pay inequality isn’t real. We’re tired of hearing that it is somehow our fault, and we’re ready to fight back. We are not going to give up on passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to level the playing field for hardworking women in the workplace.

Read an op-ed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.): Equal Pay Is Just the Start

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) is a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

This article originally appeared in Credit.com.

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

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