US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin: Fair Pay, A Raise in the Minimum Wage Will Close the Wage Gap

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered a speech on the Senate floor today to mark Equal Pay Day. Harkin has been a strong champion for gender equality in the workforce, co-sponsoring the Paycheck Fairness Act and introducing a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, which a new White House report shows would provide a significant boost to millions of American women who make up the more than half of the workers helped by the bill. He is also the author of the Fair Pay Act, which would require employers to provide equal pay for equivalent jobs and disclose pay scales and rates for all job categories at a given company. 

In the floor speech, Harkin also applauded President Obama for his recent decision to sign an Executive Order that will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share their compensation information with one another, and a Presidential Memorandum that will direct the Secretary of Labor to write regulations to require federal contractors to gather and report data on compensation paid to their employees, including by sex and by race.

“While many factors influence a worker’s earnings – including occupation, education and work experience – there is abundant evidence that actual gender discrimination accounts for much of the disparity between men and women’s pay.  Unfortunately, our laws have not done enough to prevent this discrimination,” Harkin said. “Too many women are still not getting paid equally for doing the exact same job as men.  It happens every day.  There are too many loopholes in our existing laws and too many barriers to effective enforcement.

“The fight for economic equality is far from over, and it shouldn’t be over until every working woman in America receives a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.  As Chair of the HELP Committee, I plan to keep advocating for fair pay and focusing on equal wages until we’ve achieved real equality for women across the country,” Harkin concluded.

The full text of Harkin’s speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

“I applaud the senior Senator from Maryland, Senator Mikulski, for introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“In 1963, Congress responded to wage disparities between men and women by passing the Equal Pay Act.  At that time, 25 million female workers earned just 60% of the average pay for men.

“Over half a century after the passage of that landmark law, we have made substantial progress towards eliminating this gross inequality.  But it is not enough.  Today, a wage gap continues to exist across every segment of our economy, at all education levels and in all occupations.  For every dollar that a man earns, a woman earns on average just 77 cents.

“Over time, women’s lower wages result in a significant deficit:  Over the course of a 40-year career, women on average earn more than $450,000 less than men.  And, women with a college degree or more face a career wage gap of more than $700,000 when compared with men with the same education. 

“The consequences of the gender pay gap are enormous, impacting not just women, but their families as well.  In today’s economy, women represent half of all workers, and earn an increasing share of family income.  Two-thirds of mothers are major contributors to family income.  This means that when a mother earns less than her male colleagues, her family often cannot afford even basic necessities – such as purchasing needed medicines or putting healthy food on the table.  In addition, because women have to work more hours to earn the same paycheck as men, this often means they have less time to spend with family.

“While many factors influence a worker’s earnings – including occupation, education and work experience – there is abundant evidence that actual gender discrimination accounts for much of the disparity between men and women’s pay.  Unfortunately, our laws have not done enough to prevent this discrimination.

“Too many women are still not getting paid equally for doing the exact same job as men.  It happens every day.  There are too many loopholes in our existing laws and too many barriers to effective enforcement. 

“That is why we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.  It is simple, common-sense legislation that builds on the progress we have made with the Equal Pay Act.  I thank Senator Mikulski for her leadership on the Paycheck Fairness Act and for all her efforts to fight for equity in the workplace. 

“The bill would close some of the loopholes created by the courts – like clarifying the ‘any factor other than sex’ defense – and would create strong incentives for employers to obey the laws by strengthening the remedies available to victims of discrimination.  It would also empower women to negotiate for equal pay by prohibiting employers from retaliating against women for discussing salary information.  These types of changes are long overdue, and I urge my colleagues to pass the bill today. 

“But we can’t stop there.  We must also tackle the more subtle discrimination that occurs when we systematically undervalue the work traditionally done by women.  The fact is, millions of female-dominated jobs – jobs that are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions to similar jobs dominated by men – pay significantly less than equivalent male-dominated jobs.  This is hard to fathom and impossible to justify. 

“Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor?  84 percent of maids are female; 75 percent of janitors are male.  While the jobs are equivalent, the median weekly earnings for a maid are $399; for a janitor $484.  Truck drivers – a job that is 96 percent male – have a median weekly earnings of $730.  In contrast, a child care worker – a job that is 93 percent female – has median weekly earnings of $390.  Why do we value someone who moves products more than we value someone who looks after the safety and well-being of our children?  This is not to say truck drivers are overpaid.  It is to say that jobs we consider ‘women’s work’ are often underpaid. 

“That is why, in every session of Congress since 1996, I have introduced the Fair Pay Act, which would require employers to provide equal pay for equivalent jobs.  My bill requires employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, but which are dominated by employees of a different gender, race, or national origin.

“Passage of my bill will make a real difference.  In 1983, the Iowa state legislature passed a bill stipulating that the state shall not discriminate in compensation between predominately male and female jobs deemed to be of comparable worth.  Toward that end, the state engaged Arthur Young and Company to evaluate the value of 800 job classifications in state government.  The final recommendations, made in April 1984, proposed that 10,751 employees should be given a pay increase.

“For the women in this country who are currently being paid less not because of their skills or education but simply because they are in undervalued “female” jobs, making sure they received their real worth would make a huge difference for them and the families that rely on their wages.

“My bill would also require employers to publicly disclose their job categories and their pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual employees.  If we give women information about what their male colleagues are earning, they can negotiate a better deal for themselves in the workplace.

“Right now, women who believe they are the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and endure a drawn-out legal discovery process to find out whether they make less than the man working besides them.  With pay statistics readily available, this expensive process could be avoided.

“The number of lawsuits would surely go down if employees could see up front whether they are being treated fairly.  In fact, I asked Lilly Ledbetter if the Fair Pay Act had been law, would it have obviated her wage discrimination case. She said that with the information about pay scales that the bill provides, she would have known that she was a victim of discrimination and could have tried to address the problem much sooner, before it caused a lifelong drop in her earnings and before she had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to try to make things right.

“Another critical way to reduce the gender pay gap is to give America a raise.  That is why I introduced the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which will raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over three years.  The majority of low wage workers are women—because of the two trends I discussed: jobs primarily held by women are undervalued and thus underpaid, and because within virtually every occupation, women earn less than men.  In fact, women are three-quarters of the workers in the top ten largest low-paying jobs; and even in these jobs, women earn 10 percent less than men.  Women, thus will disproportionately benefit from a raise in the minimum wage.  When we lift the floor on wages, it is women’s jobs that will be most affected.  In fact, new research by several White House economic and policy offices shows that passing the Minimum Wage Fairness Act will reduce the gender pay gap by 5 percent, putting women’s wages on more equal footing with men’s.

“Another facet of my bill would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in more than two decades, from a paltry $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.  This will be phased in slowly, over 6 years.  The fact that these workers have not had an increase in their base wage in so long is just unconscionable.  Even with tips, income for tipped workers is very low, and as a result, their poverty rate is double that of the national workforce.  Women make up over two-thirds of tipped workers, and would be the overwhelming beneficiaries of an increase in the tipped minimum wage.

“Moreover, because the minimum wage has not kept up with the rising cost of living or the rest of the economy, it is difficult for hardworking Americans—and especially for women—to provide for their families, purchase necessities, invest in homes, and contribute to their local economy.  When we raise the minimum wage, our nation’s lowest paid workers—including one in four women—will have more money in their pockets to spend at their local stores, boosting businesses’ bottom line as well as the overall economy. Together we will all do better. 

“Today President Obama is also taking action for equal pay. He is not waiting for Congress to act; he is moving ahead.  Today he will take two steps: he will sign an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share their compensation information with one another.  He is also directing the Secretary of Labor to write regulations to require federal contractors to gather and report data on compensation paid to their employees, including by sex and by race.  This information will help employers to reevaluate their pay practices and voluntarily improve their compliance with equal pay policies, and it will allow for more targeted enforcement by directing efforts and resources where they are needed.

“The fight for economic equality is far from over, and it shouldn’t be over until every working woman in America receives a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.  As Chair of the HELP Committee I plan to keep advocating for fair pay and focusing on equal wages until we’ve achieved real equality for women across the country.  But first things first:  It is time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.”

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