Got equal pay?

When President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women earned an average 59 cents to every dollar earned by men. In the past 46 years, women’s wages have inched up, but exceedingly slowly, at only half a cent per year.

So on April 28—Equal Pay Day—the National Organization for Women will be holding Unhappy Hour events across the country to protest wage disparity. Here, the Women Lawyers of Sacramento arranged an Unhappy Hour last week, on April 22, at a Midtown restaurant: Men paid the full price of admission at $25, and women paid $19.25.

Just to make a point.

Let’s review the facts: Today, white women earn an average of 77 cents to every dollar earned by white men. If you think that’s bad, the situation worsens for women of color: African-American women earn 71 cents and Latinas earn 58 cents (Asian-American women earn about the same as white women).

One year out of college, women working full time earn 80 percent of what their male colleagues earn in the same field, according to research by the American Association of University Women. Ten years after graduation, the gap widens as women earn only 69 percent.

President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in January, improving the rights of women to bring wage-disparity claims. The law is named for a woman who lost a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in which the court upheld discrimination against her because she failed to file a wage-discrimination complaint against her employer during the statute of limitations of 180 days. However, Ledbetter said she didn’t realize she had been treated unfairly until years later, when she retired. The act amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, extending the statute of limitations.

While the Lilly Ledbetter Act is a good first step, we encourage the U.S. Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the House of Representatives passed in January. The legislation deters wage disparity by strengthening incentives to prevent discrimination and closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act.

The act would allow plaintiffs to recover compensatory and punitive damages, which is already available for race- or ethnicity-based discrimination. The act would allow an Equal Pay Act lawsuit to proceed as a class action, so that all those injured can seek relief. Employers would be prohibited from punishing employees who share salary information, as this allows potential victims to determine whether they’re experiencing wage disparity. Additionally, the law would establish a grant program to teach women how to acquire better jobs, negotiate pay raises and earn what they’re worth.

Every year, women lose thousands of dollars in income and retirement savings because of wage disparities. Closing the wage gap is crucial in the current economic recession as women workers increasingly become the sole breadwinners of dual-earning families.

Meanwhile, the wage gaps hits single mothers hardest of all. It’s estimated that if pay parity existed in the United States, the poverty rates of single mothers would be cut in half.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work. It’s that simple. We strongly urge the Senate to pass, and President Obama to sign, the Paycheck Fairness Act.