Twelve years ago to the day, President Obama and I were a little over a week into our time in office. While we were working with Congress on what became the Recovery Act that kept us from another Great Depression, we got another groundbreaking and critical piece of economic legislation passed and to the President’s desk. I stood next to him and the incredible woman for whom the first law he would ever sign was named after, Lilly Ledbetter.
Before she was a household name, she was like so many other women in the workforce – who worked hard, with honor, only to find out she was being paid less than a man for the same work.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act marked one small step to give women a fair chance to get ahead in this country. But we’re still far from full fair pay in the workplace — as we’ve seen in this pandemic and economic crisis.
Women are disproportionately working on the frontlines caring for our loved ones and working to beat the virus, but they continue to earn less than their male counterparts. The pandemic is widening women’s income and wealth gaps, as more than two million have dropped out of the labor force, partly reflecting the increased domestic labor demands on women during the pandemic.
Vice President Harris and I will lead an economic recovery that not only brings women back into the workforce, but that also breaks down barriers that have left women, especially women of color, unseen, underpaid, and undervalued.
We applaud Senator Murray and Congresswoman DeLauro for reintroducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will take critical steps to end pay discrimination and increase transparency by protecting workers from retaliation for simply sharing their wages with their colleagues. It will also ban employers from seeking salary history, so they have one less false justification for under-paying women and people of color. And, it will provide tools to hold employers accountable for engaging in systemic discrimination. We urge Congress to pass it and to go further to end pay discrimination –starting by dramatically increasing funding for enforcement so that employers are held accountable.
We also need to take additional steps to help women have more choices to rejoin or stay in the workforce and to have more options for high-paying jobs. That includes by providing paid family and medical leave, making child care more affordable and schedules more predictable and flexible, and building training pipelines into high-paying jobs. It also includes raising the minimum wage and boosting pay for those in the care economy – including child care workers, home health aides, and pre-school teachers. And, we must make it easier for workers to organize and bargain collectively, a critical path to reducing the wage gap for women.
As we do this work, we urge employers across the country to partner with us and take immediate action to change the culture and pay practices that foster discrimination.
We cannot move forward while leaving half of our country behind. I hope there is a bill that comes to my desk for me to sign, with Vice President Harris standing next to me as we ensure that women are valued, appreciated, and given the fair shot they deserve.