Sunday marked the third anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first legislation signed into law by President Obama. The law, which expanded the statute of limitations on fair pay lawsuits, was a response to a Supreme Court ruling against Ledbetter in her fair pay case.
Though the law expanded the legal remedies available to women who have been victims of discriminatory pay, little has been done to address the pay gap that exists between male and female employees. Since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law, the pay gap has closed at less than half-a-cent per year. That trend is continuing, as the pay gap barely closed from 2009 to 2010.
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Women made 77 percent of men’s earnings in 2009, the year the law passed. In 2010, that was virtually unchanged, as women’s wages rose to 77.4 percent of men’s. The gap is even larger for African Americans and Latinos: black women made 67.5 percent of all men’s earnings in 2009, while Latino women made 57.7 percent. In 2010, those figures ticked up to 67.7 percent and 58.7 percent, respectively.
Women make up half of the American workforce, and in two-thirds of American families, the mother is the primary breadwinner or a co-breadwinner. But they make less than their male counterparts in all 50 states, though the size of each state’s wage gap varies. While the gap continues to close in places like Washington, D.C., where women make 91.8 percent of men’s earnings, it is growing in others, like Wyoming, where women’s earnings dropped from 65.5 percent of men’s in 2009 to just 63.8 percent in 2010.
Because of the gender pay gap, women with the same education doing the same job as men earn far less over their working lifetimes. The wage gap costs $723,000 over a 40-year career for women with college degrees. In some industries, the gap can cost women close to a million dollars.
In November 2010, Senate Republicans killed efforts to close the pay gap when they unanimously voted to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have updated the Equal Pay Act, closed many of its loopholes, and strengthened incentives to prevent pay discrimination.