Photo by Jerry Bunkers
The latest shot across the bow in the battle for women’s hearts and votes: a push for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Senate will begin debate on the bill later today now that it’s back in session, with a vote lined up for tomorrow. The bill is expected to fail, and it looked even more doomed after the House voted not to consider it on Thursday. Yet this bill doesn’t just make policy sense for all the women earning less than their male counterparts. It makes political sense for Democrats, giving women a reason to head to the polls and, perhaps more important, more financial firepower to spend on political campaigns for years to come.
The act is undoubtedly sound policy. The gender wage gap has barely budged in recent decades, and the bill aims to help reduce it by protecting workers from retaliation if they compare wages. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has found that nearly half of all workers are either forbidden or strongly discouraged from sharing that information, yet “pay secrecy makes it difficult for women and men to find out whether they are paid fairly, and undermines attempts to reduce the gender wage gap.” As Irin Carmon wrote last week, this secrecy is likely a root cause of the lack of pay discrimination cases brought against employers. It may be illegal to pay women differently for the same work, but they’ll be in the dark about what’s going on unless they can compare their pay to their coworkers’.
On top of this important fix, it also gets tougher on employers who might be discriminating against women when they hand out paychecks. It clarifies and strengthens the definition of what counts as a real justification for pay disparities and requires stronger demonstrations from businesses that claim they weren’t based on gender. It also aims to proactively deter discrimination from happening in the first place by strengthening the penalties for businesses that fail to provide equal compensation.
But it’s also good politics. Much of the battle over women voters is going to narrow in on unmarried ones. Of the 53.1 million women eligible to vote in 2008, 70 percent went for Obama, but many of them stayed home in the 2010 midterms. Since then their ranks have risen to 55 million, and they could make or break the election for whoever wins their favor. And the gender wage gap may be on the top of their minds as they make that decision. “For unmarried women, paycheck fairness is one of their top economic issues,” pollster Celinda Lake told Businessweek. “These women are feeling very economically marginalized.” Passing such a bill could be just what it takes to motivate them to get to the polls and vote Democratic.