Getting Closer to Equal Pay for Equal Work
Courier Post Opinion Editorial.
By Donald Norcross
Monday was April Fool’s Day, and the day that followed is the real, cruel joke - Equal Pay Day. It marks the extra three-plus months that women must work just to earn what their male counterparts did in the year before. As companies close the books on first quarter of 2019, on Equal Pay Day we all must acknowledge how backward it is that an American woman has to work five quarters to earn as much as the average man did in four. But we can help change that. We can take action so that Equal Pay Day isn’t a necessary evil, but a memory of an injustice that we overcame together.
I am optimistic that the time is now and the momentum is in our favor. The House of Representatives - with our new Democratic majority and a record number of women - just ended Women’s History Month in a productive fashion by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7). We’re strengthening and expanding upon the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 to close loopholes and further prevent discrimination.
Are you aware that right now employers can punish workers who disclose or even just discuss their wages? That’s not right and perpetuates a culture of silence. The Paycheck Fairness Act corrects that wrong, and I was on the phone with my daughter as I walked in to vote on March 27th. I told her this was a vote for her, her mom, my mom and everyone who has been negatively affected by the gender wage gap.
Yet we can’t just focus on the wage gap in a vacuum - we must also raise the minimum wage to lift up Americans who are working full time and living in poverty. In our country today, 64 percent of minimum-wage workers are women and, to help women and families, we must pass the Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 582) to predictably raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. I’m a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and our committee voted to increase the minimum wage. Now, we need to get to the finish line to give our economy a needed boost and level the playing field for hard workers.
There are other easy ways to level the playing field, like by passing the Equal Rights Amendment (H.J. Res. 38) that would codify, in law, that women are equal to men. The concept for the amendment is simple, but needed, and it was first proposed by New Jersey’s own Alice Paul in 1943. Alice Paul was an original suffragette and she led the National Women’s Party for over 50 years. In fact, she’s been depicted by famous actors in movies and her family’s home in South Jersey is a National Historic Landmark and the location of the Alice Paul Institute.
It was my honor to recently be selected by the Alice Paul Institute as the 2019 Equality Award winner. It’s humbling to not only be recognized for my work advancing equality, but to be honored in Alice Paul’s name. As someone who grew up around 15 minutes away from Alice Paul’s home, I have always heard about and admired her audacity. Even when times were rough and she was arrested, she always stood by her convictions. She fought tooth and nail for women’s rights and I vow to continue the fight in her memory, including by making more of my colleagues aware of Alice Paul’s story and many contributions.
I recently introduced a House Resolution to have a portrait of Alice Paul hung in the U.S. Capitol building (H.Res. 178). It’s a rare tribute to have a portrait in the Capitol but, currently, under 10 percent of the people lining the walls are women. We can do better than that, and New Jersey’s Alice Paul is certainly deserving.
A portrait may seem like a small start, and it is, but it makes a big statement about the importance of women’s history. Reflecting on the past allows us to move into a brighter future, and the 2018 election highlighted how women can make their voices heard about what’s right. Just one year before the tide-turning 2018 election, I wrote in the Courier Post that more men, specifically in Congress, should listen to women. Last week, our full New Jersey delegation in the House of Representatives showed that we hear women loud and clear, and we all voted in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. That’s progress.
It’s not enough on its own to completely end pay inequity. We still need to get to the root causes of the gender wage gap and expand paid family and medical leave and make childcare more affordable. We still need the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and both houses to pass the Raise the Wage Act. But we’re on our way. We’re on the path that rids us of Equal Pay Day in April and makes January 1st the day when both men and women start the year on the same footing.