Pay Equality Emerges as Issue in Midterm Campaigns

Wednesday, 02 Apr 2014 12:54 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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U.S. women earn 77 cents for every dollar of their male counterparts, an issue that is "taking center stage as midterm elections heat up," according to The Dallas Morning News.

CNN reported last month that Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator, has championed the issue while taking jabs at her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, for his opposition to the Lone Star State’s version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill Davis sponsored that would have allowed women to file equal-pay claims in state courts. Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill last year.

A similar situation is playing out in the U.S. Senate race in West Virginia, where Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat, is trumpeting a dissenting vote cast against the Ledbetter Act by her GOP opponent, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, according to The Washington Post.

Even Ledbetter herself, a plaintiff in a lawsuit that ended with litigation being passed in her name, is weighing in on the issue. In January, she co-authored a commentary on Forbes.com discussing the lack of progress on the issue five years after President Barack Obama signed into law legislation loosening the time line requirement for a discrimination lawsuit.

She references "unprecedented gridlock in both chambers" while Congress has squandered opportunities to advance companion legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act.

"The bill would require an employer to prove that any wage disparity is based on a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training, or experience," according to the commentary. "Currently courts can still allow businesses to justify gender wage disparity with market forces or past salaries — factors that may reflect previous and ongoing sex discrimination."

While many in the GOP have come out in favor of pay parity, they overwhelmingly oppose federal legislation mandating it.

According to census data published in 2009, men who worked full-time in 2008 earned a median income of $45,556, compared with women, who earned $35,471, or 77.9 percent of men’s earnings.

Women’s median earnings were below men’s in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the American Community Survey cited in the census report.

Part of the wage difference can be attributed to women's leaving the workforce to have children and the decision to pursue careers in lower-paying fields, such as teaching, while men more often take jobs in higher-paying industries such as computer science and engineering, according to The Dallas Morning News.

A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showed that if annual earnings ratios continue at the same rate as they have since 1960, women would not earn pay equal to men's until 2058, meaning most women working today will not see it happen during their careers.

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