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Note: Femlaw took on this topic in a Feminisms diary just a few weeks ago, Feminisms: Act Now To Support Fair Pay.

Tomorrow, President Obama will sign his first bill into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The House passed this bill on January 9th - roll call here. The Senate passed this bill on January 22nd - roll call here. I feel like we should celebrate this vote, but at the same time I feel a great sadness that it has taken this long and that we still have so far to go to true equality. At the moment, I will side more heavily with feelings of celebration, excitement, and relief. We have a President who proudly calls himself a Feminist and tomorrow he will sign a bill that will help women get fair pay. Finally.

On the more negative side of things, I think it's important to check out those roll call links above. Know any women who are represented by those Republicans? How about those few dispicable Democrats? Maybe you should let those women know that their Representatives feel they don't deserve equal pay for equal work. There are 5 Republicans in the Senate who believe that women deserve equal pay, Collins, Hutchison, Murkowski, Snowe, and Specter. I think we will be likely to see 3 of those folks regularly cross over to vote with us on legislation - Collins, Snowe, and Specter. We may even get a few of the people who are up for re-election in 2010 who fear the loss of their seats. I know I'll be informing Iowans of the fact that Chuck Grassley doesn't believe Iowa women deserve equal pay (I'll also be informing them that he created the Medicare Donut Hole).

Nate Silver has a good post today about Republicans who have joined us on certain votes. He has an awesome chart to show how each Republican voted on 7 different issues. There's a lot of red on that list - meaning, they voted for evil over good, but there's some blue as well. Maybe there's hope for some.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Lilly Ledbetter, a simple summary of the case can be found here:

Last year, Ms. Ledbetter was the losing party in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire.

Ms. Ledbetter was a manager in a Goodyear plant in Gasden, Alabama. A jury found that Goodyear discriminated against her in pay, giving her smaller raises than the male managers, and awarded her $3 million in damages. The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, threw out that award, ruling that Ms. Ledbetter had filed her complaint too late.

It was an ideologically driven decision — one that tossed aside precedent and logic.

How will this legislation help the women you know? Well, I'll give you some examples here just based on Iowa statistics, from the National Women's Law Center (click to see if they have details for your state):

  • In 2006, on average, women in Iowa working full-time, year-round earned only 75% of what men working full-time, year-round earned2 - two percentage points below the nationwide average of 77%.3
  • The wage gap is even worse for women of color. Black women working full-time, year-round in Iowa earned only 65%, and Hispanic women only 57%, of the wages of White, non-Hispanic men.4
  • The wage gap persists at all levels of education. Women in Iowa with a high school diploma earned only 60% of what men with a high school diploma earned. Women in Iowa with a bachelor’s degree earned only 69% of the amount that men with a bachelor’s degree earned. In fact, the average Iowa woman must receive a bachelor’s degree before she earns as much as the average Iowa male high school graduate.5
  • The wage gap exists across occupations. For example, Iowa women working full-time, year round in architecture and engineering occupations earned only 69% of what men in the same occupations earned, and Iowa women working full-time, year-round in sales and related occupations earned only 61% of what men in the same occupations earned.6

Gloria Feldt, former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote about Lilly Ledbetter and Fair Pay at Huffington Post, Lilly Ledbetter's Courageous Acts Pump Up Your Pocketbook. She brings our attention to the fact that women are losing nearly half a million dollars in wages over a lifetime because they don't receive equal pay. The Center for American Progress did a study Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap that provides us with some details:

  • Women may lose $434,000 in income, on average, due to the career wage gap.
  • Women at all education levels lose significant amounts of income due to the career wage gap, but women with the most education lose the most in earnings.
  • Women with a college degree or higher lose $713,000 over a 40-year period versus a $270,000 loss for women who did not finish high school.
  • Women in all occupations suffer from the career wage gap, but the gap ranges widely from one occupation to the next, with the widest gap in finance and management and the smallest gap in construction and maintenance.
  • Women lose hundreds of thousands of dollars from the career wage gap no matter where they live.
  • The gap exceeds $300,000 in 15 states, $400,000 in 22 states, and $500,000 in 11 states.

You can see the wage gap by state - by education or by profession - on this interactive map - it's awfully wide in some places.

While I find these statistics infuriating, I am choosing tonight to focus on something positive - some hope. When President Obama signs this legislation into law tomorrow equal pay will be enforceable by law. I don't expect this will change much overnight, but I do expect that my future niece (who was born last Wednesday morning) will grow up to earn equal pay.

Originally posted to Elise on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 07:05 PM PST.

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