For today's Common Good Forum, we invited United States Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to write on why the Catholic Church opposes pay discrimination and what she's doing in Congress to make sure that women are paid fairly in the United States.
Like many Catholics, I have found the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy to be tremendously inspiring. With charisma, grace, humility, an open heart and an inclusive vision, he has pushed the Church closer to its traditional role at the forefront of the battle for social justice. A crucial part of that vital push, as the Church has affirmed in the past, is and must be ensuring equal pay for equal work.
“The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies,” the Pope wrote eloquently in his recent letter Joy of the Gospel. And so the great task of our time, he argues therein, is to ensure the “general temporal welfare and prosperity” of all. That includes working to secure a “just wage” for all workers, as it “enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.”
And yet, today, even as women now make up half the workforce and two-thirds of primary and co-breadwinners in America, they still make only 77 cents, on average, for every dollar a man makes. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, women are losing out on $11,000 in income every year, on average, as a result. That is equivalent to two years’ worth of groceries, nearly three years’ worth of family health insurance premiums, more than a year’s worth of rent, or more than 2,700 gallons of gas.
The pay gap exists across occupations and education levels – It is the lowest for new college graduates, but it rises as the years progress. For women of color, it is even worse: African-American women make only 62 cents on the dollar, as compared to the average white male, Hispanic women only 54 cents. And while women are predominantly affected, unequal pay is not just a problem for them. Less pay for women means less income for the entire family. That means both one- and two-income households, already struggling mightily to get by in this economy, are not being paid what they have earned.
Over fifty years ago, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act to end the “serious and endemic problem” of unequal wages in America. Pay discrimination contradicts Catholic doctrine as well. The catechism of the Church speaks of “sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women” and that “are in open contradiction of the Gospel…Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals…is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, [and] human dignity.”
And almost twenty years ago, in his 1995 Letter to Women, Pope John Paul II wrote that “there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements…This is a matter of justice, but also of necessity.” And yet, although we all agree it is wrong, the wage gap persists, and has not budged in a decade.
That is why, every Congress since 1997, I have introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, a simple, common-sense, and long-overdue measure to help ensure equal pay for equal work at last. This act brings pay discrimination law into line with other civil rights law, giving teeth to the Equal Pay Act. It would put the burden on employers to explain why they are paying women less than men for the same job. They must show disparities are not sex-based. And it bans the practice of pay secrecy, which is how pay discrimination can linger on for decades at a time.
In short, this legislation will help ensure women are being paid the same as men for the same job, and help ease the struggles of many women all across our country. The Paycheck Fairness Act has passed the House of Representatives twice already, with bipartisan support, and come just two votes shy of the sixty needed in the Senate. In New Hampshire, a similar bill just passed the Republican-controlled State Senate unanimously.
In addition, this Act is part of a comprehensive economic agenda that my colleagues and I have put forward to end the economic inequities that burden women and families. It also includes raising the minimum wage, stopping discrimination against pregnant women, and ensuring access to paid family and medical leave and affordable child care, all of which can help to alleviate the grinding financial pressures facing far too many Americans. Women in America have already waited far too long to be paid fairly and equitably for the same job – It is time to get this done.