By Senator Robert Menendez and Debra L. Ness
It is hard to believe that 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, and at a time when women’s wages are vitally important to their families, women are still paid appreciably less than men. That is the sad reality we’re reminded of this week as we recognize Equal Pay Day – the day that marks how far into the new year women have had to work to catch up with men’s wages from the year before.
A new analysis from the National Partnership for Women & Families makes it painfully clear that the gender-based wage gap has real consequences for New Jersey women, families, the local economy, and the state as a whole. At a time when every penny counts for so many, this is simply unacceptable.
According to the analysis, New Jersey women are paid just 78 cents for every dollar paid to men in the state. That’s a loss of more than $13,000 for every New Jersey woman every year, or more than $16.8 billion total – money that could provide critical support for families and significantly strengthen New Jersey’s economy.
If the wage gap were eliminated, each full-time working woman in the state could afford food for nearly two more years, 3,800+ more gallons of gas, or rent for an additional year. Basic necessities like these are particularly important for the 22 percent of New Jersey’s women-headed households with incomes that fall below the poverty line.
Sadly, New Jersey is not alone. The wage gap exists in every corner of the country – in all 50 states and in all 50 of the nation’s major metropolitan areas. Nationally, on average, women who hold full-time jobs are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. Women of color suffer from even larger gaps, with Latinas and African-American women receiving just 55 cents and 64 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
The pervasiveness of the wage gap – and the fact that it exists regardless of education level and industry – is what makes federal action to combat pay discrimination so important. Fortunately, Congressional leaders and champions for women and families have already introduced legislation that would help tremendously: The Paycheck Fairness Act.
Reintroduced in January, the Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, help to break harmful patterns of wage discrimination, and establish stronger workplace protections for women. It would be a major step toward eliminating the wage gap that is hurting women and families in New Jersey and across the country.
In a nation that claims to value families and promote equality, we simply cannot continue to let a punishing gender-based wage gap continue – especially when there is a reasonable proposal before Congress that would help address it.
All lawmakers should consider what unfair wages cost their states and the women and families they are elected to serve. It is time to make passing the Paycheck Fairness Act a priority.
Senator Menendez has served in the U.S. Senate since 2006, and has co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act in every Congress since then-Senator Hillary Clinton introduced the legislation in the 109th Congress. Debra L. Ness is the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.