Equal pay for equal work (Sen. Chris Dodd)

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day until which women have to work to make up the earnings they were shorted in 2009 compared to their male colleagues.

Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing that the fight for equal pay continues in the year 2010. It’s hard to find anyone who will say, on the record, that women don’t deserve to earn the same as men.

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And yet, the wage gap persists. Women still earn just 77 cents for each dollar a man earns. The average woman in my state of Connecticut needs a bachelor’s degree just to earn what a man with a high school diploma earns. The gap is larger in the African-American and Hispanic communities, it persists across the income spectrum, and, astonishingly, in some occupations it’s actually getting worse with time.

Even when studies control for factors such as education, job tenure, and choice of industry, the gap remains. Labor economists have conducted study after study and controlled for every measurable variable—job characteristics, union membership, ethnic and racial background, educational experience, and on and on—and still cannot explain nearly half of the wage gap.

Women, in America, in 2010, are still being paid less than men simply because they are women.

This is, of course, wildly offensive to our sense of fairness. But it’s also an issue of economic security for millions of American families. Two out of every five mothers are their families’ primary breadwinners, either as a single parent or as the spouse with the higher income. And the recession is only squeezing these families tighter.

The first law President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But despite the heroic fight it took to get that bill passed, it simply reversed a truly horrendous Supreme Court decision that barred women from fighting pay discrimination in court. We still need to take legislative action to eliminate that discrimination in the first place.

That’s why we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA). This bill toughens penalties for pay discrimination and puts gender-based discrimination on an equal footing with discrimination based on race or ethnicity. It makes it easier for victims of pay discrimination to participate in class action suits. It prohibits employers from punishing whistleblowers and makes it more difficult for employers to justify discrimination under the law. And it strengthens regulatory programs designed to monitor compliance with fair pay rules.

I’ve co-sponsored the PFA for the last seven Congresses, and although I’m retiring this year, there are plenty of Senators ready to keep the fight going. But we shouldn’t have to. It’s 2010 already, for pete’s sake. We should get this done.