The Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to eliminate the gender pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women, passed the House of Representatives on Thursday in a 217-210 vote.
The bill, which was reintroduced by House Democrats in January, has been met with opposition from some business groups who say it could threaten bonuses, prohibit employees from negotiating higher pay and make it easier for "trial lawyers to file large class-action suits against employers." However, many workplace and gender experts have argued in favor of the bill, emphasizing that it could be a key step to achieving equal pay for women.
"I applaud the House of Representatives for passing the Paycheck Fairness Act," President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House. "Closing the gender pay gap is more than just an economic imperative — it's a moral imperative as well."
Biden added that a full passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act by Congress would address the wage gap by "closing loopholes that have allowed employers to justify gender pay disparities, strengthening provisions for holding employers accountable for systemic pay discrimination, and helping level the playing field for women and people of color by making it easier for workers to challenge pay disparities as a group."
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Additionally, he said the Paycheck Fairness Act would make it illegal for employers to ask employees about their salary history in the hiring process and promote pay transparency by requiring more employers to report pay data to the government. Right now, at least 18 states already have laws in place that ban employers from asking about salary history.
The act would also protect workers from facing retaliation if they discuss their salary with co-workers, an issue Biden says is a "critical barrier to equality given that pay disparities often persist because workers are kept in the dark about the fact that they aren't being paid fairly."
Currently, women in the U.S., on average, are paid just $0.82 for every dollar paid to men. When broken down by race, Asian American and Pacific Islander women are paid $0.85 for every dollar paid to white men, white women are paid $0.79 for every dollar paid to white men, and Black women, Native American women and Latinas are paid $0.63, $0.60 and $0.55, respectively, for every dollar paid to white men. For some Native American women and Asian American and Pacific Islander women, the pay gaps they face are even more severe than the average that's reported for their racial group.
While this isn't the first time lawmakers have tried to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, with Democrats helping the House pass the legislation in 2008, 2009 and 2019, some experts do hope that this attempt will be different considering the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women.
"Black women, Latinas, and other women continue to be undervalued and underpaid, even as they risk their lives on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis to keep the country going," Emily Martin, vice president for education & workplace justice at the National Women's Law Center, says in a statement. "If we don't close the gender wage gap, a woman starting her career today stands to lose more than $400,000 over a 40-year career. Latinas will typically lose over $1 million and Black women and Native American women close to that."
This "life-changing" loss in income, Martin says, undercuts women's "ability to navigate this crisis in the short run and to build wealth and economic stability for their families in the long run."
The World Economic Forum predicts that the pandemic's impact on women has only widened the gender gap that already existed. Prior to the pandemic, WEF predicted that it would take 100 years for gender equality to be reached globally. Now, that prediction has increased to 135.6 years. When looking at the U.S. specifically, WEF predicts it could take 61.5 years before economic parity is reached.
One reason why this gap has widened during the pandemic is because of the disproportionate job loss women have experienced over the past year, as well as the decrease in women's labor force participation rate as many working mothers have been forced out of work by child-care demands. Since February 2020, women have lost more than 4.6 million net jobs, with many of these jobs being in service-sector industries that were impacted heavily by the pandemic, reports NWLC. By comparison, men have lost nearly 3.8 million net jobs over the same time period.
When looking at women's labor force participation rate, data from NWLC shows that the current participation rate of 57.4% is the lowest it's been since December 1988. Prior to the pandemic, women's labor force participation rate stood at 59.2% in February 2020.
"Equal pay is about justice, fairness, and who we are as a nation," Biden added in his White House statement, "it makes all of us stronger, and it represents what America is truly about."