What is the Equal Pay Act? The 1963 law has yet to fulfill its promise

Tuesday, April 10th is what’s known as Equal Pay Day 2018, the symbolic date on which the average woman’s salary finally catches up to what the typical white man earned in 2017. It might seem absurd that 55 long years after former President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 into law, women still make just 80.5 cents for every dollar paid to men — but it’s the reality we’re faced with, year after year.

Aimed at prohibiting wage disparity based on sex, Kennedy’s Equal Pay Act made it illegal for companies to pay men and women different wages for jobs that require the same levels of skill, responsibility, and effort. And while the gender pay gap has gotten smaller since then, the rate at which it is closing has slowed considerably. Even worse? Comparable bills have been introduced to help the Equal Pay Act achieve its original goals, but Congress has yet to seriously consider them.

Here are bills similar to the Equal Pay Act that are still awaiting congressional action.

1Paycheck Fairness Act

First introduced in 1997, the Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen and update the Equal Pay Act by forcing employers to substantiate the reasons behind differences in pay; protecting workers who openly discuss pay from retaliation; and increasing the penalties for equal pay violations.

The bill would also establish grant programs under the Labor Department to help women and girls learn salary negotiation skills.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was most recently introduced in the House and Senate in April 2017, and has been stalled in committee since then.

2Pay Equity for All Act

The central tenet of the Pay Equity for All Act is that it would prevent employers from using a job candidate’s salary history in determining pay. “Banning this practice would mean prior discrimination would not follow an employee through their career, and salaries would be determined by job qualifications and market pay scales,” according to the American Association of University Women.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in May 2017, where it’s remained since.

Though unrelated to the proposed Pay Equity for All Act itself, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday, April 9th that a person’s salary history is not an excuse to pay them less than another employee for the same work. In a majority opinion, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote:

"The Equal Pay Act stands for a principle as simple as it is just: men and women should receive equal pay for equal work regardless of sex," according to The Huffington Post. "The financial exploitation of working women embodied by the gender pay gap continues to be an embarrassing reality of our economy. To allow employers to capitalize on the persistence of the wage gap and perpetuate that gap ad infinitum … would be contrary to the text and history of the Equal Pay Act and would [void] the very purpose for which the Act stands."

3Fair Pay Act

The Fair Pay Act — which has been languishing in the House since its introduction in April 2017 — would help limit the effects of occupational segregation, or the tendency of certain professions to be dominated by mostly men or women. Occupational segregation helps perpetuate the gender pay gap by excluding women from traditionally male-dominated trades that tend to pay more than female-dominated industries.

The Fair Pay Act would require employers to “provide equal pay for work of equivalent value, whether or not the jobs are the same,” according to the AAUW.

Though the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was a step in the right direction, much work remains in order to close the gender wage gap completely. Contact your elected officials and urge them to support these bills. Just text RESIST to 50409, and Resistbot will help you do the rest.

And if they don’t, the best way to make your voice heard is at the ballot box — so make sure you’re registered to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.