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Addressing Pay Discrimination

Melody Barns, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, talks about some of the work the Obama Administration is doing to address pay discrimination.

Earlier this week, I spoke at a meeting hosted by the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor. The meeting brought together government researchers, stakeholders, and academics to discuss the state of current research and the gaps in data on pay equity. This meeting, recommended by the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, provided an opportunity for experts to share current research and learn more about the work happening at the state and local level. 

Pay discrimination is not a new problem. On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, which sought to end wage discrimination on the basis of sex. At the time, women were paid 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Almost 50 years later, pay equity remains far from reality, as the average woman in the United States still only earns 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.  For women of color, this gap is even wider.

This disparity remains as unacceptable as it was when the Act was signed.  All women – and their families – deserve equal pay.  Women now make up nearly half of the nation’s workforce, women increasingly work full-time, and in almost two-thirds of families women are either the primary or co-breadwinner.  As we emerge from one of the worst recessions in American history, when families are struggling to pay their bills and save for the future, pay inequity only deepens that struggle and hampers our economy’s ability to fully recover.

So while pay discrimination is not a new problem, it is time to look for new solutions.  We must employ the best approach to data collection to better understand the scope of the pay gap and improve enforcement efforts. This week’s meeting was a first step for the Department of Labor to conduct and promote research to develop ways to close the wage gap. As we think through ways to collect data necessary to enforce the law, we must use the most effective and efficient means of data collection.  We must consider the imposition of burdens on employers, appropriate protections for maintaining data confidentiality, the frequency of required data collection reports, and the most effective format for data reporting.

As we emerge from one of the worst recessions in American history, the last thing our families can afford is a smaller paycheck because of discrimination.  We owe it to women to fight with them in the struggle for equal pay. Such progress is not only good for women, it's good for families, for businesses, and for the American economy.

Melody Barnes is the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council