Will Paycheck Fairness Act Actually Lead to Equal Pay?

The bill, which has been introduced every year since 1997, now faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
By: | April 2, 2019 • 2 min read
Paycheck Fairness Act

As we acknowledge another Equal Pay Day without actual equal pay between genders—the gap is still roughly 18 percent—there’s been recent movement in Congress toward resolution in the form of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was passed by the U.S. House last week but faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

According to Fortune, the current bill seeks “to bolster equal-pay protections by banning employees from asking about workers’ salary history (a growing trend at the state and local level); eliminating the employer practice of salary confidentiality, meaning women could more easily learn of wage discrepancies; and requiring employers to disclose salary data to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in an effort to better suss out troublesome pay trends.”

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The GOP’s argument against the Paycheck Fairness Act, the piece notes, is that it’s unnecessary because gender discrimination is already against the law: “The legislation, they say, would lead to frivolous lawsuits by giving workers more opportunities to sue their employers and would incentivize companies to not hire women.”

But Democrats’ efforts have been revamped amid the #MeToo movement. Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has argued that “public sentiment—public, social media and all the rest—will help us with this.”

“[T]he issue and our environment have collided,” bill sponsor Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said last week. “Equal pay is at the center of our public discourse, and Paycheck Fairness is ready for passage today.”

According to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past 50 years, it will take 40 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower: Hispanic women will have to wait until 2224 and African-American women will wait until 2119 for equal pay.”

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But Republicans aren’t the only ones voicing opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act. Independent Women’s Forum Policy Director Hadley Heath Manning released the following statement:

“We all want women to be protected from discrimination in the workplace. But that’s not what the misnamed Paycheck Fairness Act does. If enacted, the PFA would be a big boon for trial lawyers—but not for women. It would encourage employers to standardize pay for everyone, regardless of performance or other job-related factors, and discourage them from offering the kind of flexibility that many working women value most. House Democrats continue to sell the Paycheck Fairness Act as the golden ticket to help women earn more, but it will only offer less fairness and flexibility.”

Despite this, the bill’s backers are ready to “break through” and claim fair pay for all.

In reference to the long legislative path her bill has taken, DeLauro, who has introduced similar legislation in Congress every year since 1997, summed up her feelings on the matter on the House floor last week: “I cannot tell you how difficult it has been to break through on something so simple,” she said. “Men and women in the same job deserve the same pay.”

Web Editor Michael J. O’Brien has been with HRE for more than a decade and holds a degree in economics from Boston College. He can be reached at [email protected]