Americans are working harder and longer than ever, but wages remain too low for millions of families to make ends meet. The lack of basic labor protections makes it nearly impossible for many workers to balance the demands of job and family.
More than 50 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, economic discrimination based on gender remains. Similarly, Congress voted in 1993 to provide a first step toward helping workers balance work and family through the (unpaid) Family and Medical Leave Act. However, millions of working people cannot afford to utilize this benefit.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed to abolish wage disparities based on gender, but women still are paid less than men in nearly every occupation, even when controlling for education and experience. Women working full time are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, and the gap is even more pronounced for women of color. For every dollar paid to white non-Hispanic men, African American women are paid only 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents and Latinas 53 cents. Asian/Pacific Islander women earn 85 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, although some ethnic subgroups of Asian women fare much worse.
When women endure pay discrimination, entire families suffer. More children remain stuck in poverty, especially children of single mothers. As of 2016, mothers are breadwinners in half of the families with children younger than 18. This includes half of white mothers, 53% of Latina mothers, 81% of African American mothers and 44% of Asian/Pacific Islander mothers. Closing the wage gap is urgently needed.
The bipartisan Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 270/H.R. 7) would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to close loopholes and break harmful patterns of pay discrimination, requiring employers to report pay data to the EEOC and prohibiting them from retaliating against women who discuss their pay with co-workers. While belonging to a union is still the surest way to guarantee equal pay on the job, with unionized women making approximately 27% more than their nonunion counterparts, the Paycheck Fairness Act would provide new and important tools to close the wage gap.
However, equal pay by itself will not help families weather the economic disruption that comes from serious personal or family health issues. Today, just 17% of the workforce has paid family leave through their employer, and less than half are eligible for personal medical leave through an employer-provided short-term disability program. Working families lose an estimated $20.6 billion in wages each year because they lack access to family and medical leave.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (S. 463/H.R. 1185) would create a national program to help new mothers and fathers, and people with serious personal or family health issues, through a social insurance fund that would provide up to 12 weeks of partial income replacement during their absence from work. The bill would pay up to 66% of the average monthly wage of workers who need to take time off for their own serious health condition, childbirth or adoption of a child, or the serious illness of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner.
Six states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family and medical leave insurance laws. It is time for the federal government to follow suit.
The AFL-CIO continues to support the FAMILY Act and encourages the measure’s sponsors to strengthen its oversight and enforcement provisions by examining the pressure it would place on the Social Security Administration, and perhaps consider another administering agency. Additionally, we advocate expanding coverage to provide family and medical leave benefits to public employees at the local, state and federal levels.
The AFL-CIO Executive Council recognizes that pay equity and paid family and medical leave would directly and significantly improve the lives of all working families. That is why we urge the 116th Congress to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act and the FAMILY Act. We will mobilize our members to act on this important legislation using the resources of the federation, affiliate unions, state federations, central labor councils, and constituency groups and work closely with the Coalition of Labor Union Women to make these bills the law of the land.