NEA Urges Congressional Support for Paycheck Fairness for Women

You can tell that fourth-grader she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up – but chances are she’ll still get paid less than a boy.

Even today, nearly 100 years after the first woman was elected to Congress and nearly 20 after the first flew into space, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

For NEA, this is a question of human and civil rights. Even where our members have bargained collectively for contracts that create equitable pay in schools, we know far too many women in the United States don’t enjoy the protection of an aggressive union or a fair and transparent salary schedule. Closing the current pay gap would buy a year’s worth of groceries for them or three months of child care.

That’s why NEA has urged the Senate to approve the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much-needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Approved by the House last year, the Paycheck Fairness Act would create incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach and enforcement efforts.  The bill also would deter wage discrimination by strengthening penalties for violations and by prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.

“Sex-based pay discrimination can mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars over a woman’s lifetime,” wrote NEA officials in recent letter to senators, asking for the Act’s quick passage in Congress.  “In these tough economic times, when women are stepping up as primary breadwinners in increasing numbers, the need for this legislation is even more apparent.” (You also can lend your support through our partners at the National Women’s Law Center and American Association of University Women, and by signing up to be an NEA cyber-lobbyist here.)

One specific insult that the new law would prohibit: Within individual companies, employers could not pay less for jobs that women predominately hold than for jobs held by men, if those jobs have similar value to the employer.

This would be a huge step forward for women in specific workplaces, and it also hints at the larger, societal problem that “women’s work” – and this certainly includes education – still isn’t compensated fairly.

For decades, the out-dated thinking that men bring home the bacon has excused low wages for women. But that’s both insulting and inaccurate. These days, due to record joblessness rates, women (many of them teachers) have become the chief wage-earners in unprecedented numbers. But still, educators earn significantly less than accountants or computer programmers, two jobs that require the same level of education – but are dominated by men.

Economists call this the “Teacher Pay Penalty,” and found in 2008 that it’s just getting worse. That year, public school teachers were paid about 15 percent less a week than other professionals with similar degrees and experience. Even when health insurance and pensions were added in, teachers still earned 12 percent less – and the disparity was worst for senior teachers.

“If you deliberately set out to design a plan to drive away your most experienced teachers, this would be a good way to do it,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute and director of EPI’s education research program.

(For a fun look at a serious subject, check out the American Association of University Women’s Batgirl video on paycheck fairness.)