LAMPITT MEASURE AIMED AT ENDING GENDER WAGE GAP APPROVED BY ASSEMBLY PANEL

Resolution Urges Congress to Act on “Paycheck Fairness Act” Once and For All

An Assembly panel on Monday approved a measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt aimed at putting an end to the long-standing wage discrimination experienced by women throughout the United States.

The resolution (AR-50) urges the United States Congress to pass the “Paycheck Fairness Act” in order to combat the persistent income gap that is attributable to systemic gender discrimination and provide women with more tools to achieve pay equity in the workplace.

“In 2012, women are still earning roughly 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “That’s an archaic sounding statistic reminiscent of the struggles women faced toiling in factories in the early 20th century. Letting this pay inequity stand essentially sanctions discrimination against women in the workplace. Congress let the opportunity slip out of its hands last session. We can’t let that happen again.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House of Representatives in January 2009 but never cleared the U.S. Senate, was reintroduced in 2010 and aims to strengthen current laws against wage discrimination and provides tools to enable the federal government to be more proactive in the fight. Among other things, the Paycheck Fairness Act would also close a significant loophole in the Equal Pay Act to allow for full compensation for sex-based wage discrimination.

Lampitt noted that 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data shows that full-time, year-round female workers earned 23 percent less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, minority women fare significantly worse with median earnings for African American and Hispanic women working full-time, year-round far less compared to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.

“Surprisingly, the gender income gap is largest in high paying occupations and women who graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree earn far less than their male colleagues just one year out of college, with the pay gap widening 10 years after graduation,” added Lampitt. “This becomes an even bigger problem given the fact that two-thirds of American families rely on a woman’s wages for financial security. What kind of message does this send to young girls growing up today? I would like to see my daughter enter the workforce knowing her work is valued equally through equitable compensation.”

The measure cleared the Assembly Women and Children Committee, which Lampitt chairs, and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.

Lampitt opened the newly constituted committee’s first hearing with the following statement:

“Good morning and thank you to everyone for being here for the first meeting of the newly reconstituted Assembly Women and Children Committee.

“I first would like to take a minute to express my thanks and appreciation to Speaker Oliver and Majority Leader Greenwald for creating this committee and appointing me to lead it. As everyone here knows, there are a great many challenges facing the women and children of New Jersey. These challenges cover a broad range of issues, and the Speaker and Majority Leader have shown great understanding of the policy concerns facing New Jersey’s families by making these issues a priority.

“I would also like to recognize the other members of this key committee: Assemblyman Fuentes, our Vice-Chair, as well as Assemblyman Schaer, Assemblyman Wimberly, and Assemblywoman Casagrande. I look forward to working with all of you as we address the issues that are critical to our state’s future.

“You know, I was struck when a little over a week ago, President Obama mentioned one of these important issues–pay equity–in his State of the Union. The President said, “You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work.

“It was so striking because his comments came around the three year anniversary of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act being signed into law. Lilly Ledbetter–a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama–had been continually discriminated against during her career.

“Over the course of nearly 20 years, Lily Ledbetter had been paid less than the male supervisors who performed the same job. This discrimination was systematic and unconscionable. When she went to file a lawsuit to correct this, the Supreme Court held her claim wasn’t timely because she hadn’t discovered the pay discrimination and sued within the statute of limitations.

“The Lilly Ledbetter Act fixed that technical loophole. And in a presidential term that has seen so many important pieces of legislation debated, this was the very first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law in his presidency.

“It’s such an important issue because pay equity and the wage gap are serious problems both nationally and here in New Jersey.

“A 2010 report from the US Census Bureau reported that for every dollar a man earned, a woman only earned 77 cents–for equal work production. And as women get older, this wage gap widens. The National Women’s Law Center reports that when women start working–between ages 15 and 24–the wage gap is relatively small. Yet by the time they start to reach the critical years leading to retirement, ages 45 to 64, women are earning only 71% of what men do.

“This disparity has had a staggering impact on New Jersey’s economy and on our families. A 2009 Census Bureau report, coupled with statistics from the Department of Labor, estimates that full-time working women lose approximately $15.8 billion per year due to the wage gap.

“You heard me right. $15.8 billion annually.

“This is a serious, serious problem. There are so many families in our state that are being held together by single mothers–who work tirelessly as the sole breadwinners for their families while raising their kids alone. There are so many families who, despite having two incomes, are struggling under the real pressures of this economy to make ends meet.

“Surprisingly, the gender gap is largest in high paying occupations and women who graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree earn far less than their male colleagues just one year out of college, with the pay gap widening 10 years after graduation. We don’t charge women less tuition–why should they earn less in their first year out of college despite comparable qualifications?

“This becomes an even bigger disparity given the fact that two-thirds of American families rely on a woman’s wages for financial security. What kind of message does this send to young girls growing up today? I would like to see my daughter, and the daughters of countless New Jersey families, enter the workforce knowing her work is valued through equitable compensation.

“And so one approach we can take toward helping all of our middle and working class families in New Jersey is addressing this $15.8 billion annual wage gap. Because each dollar we reduce that gap is a dollar that goes to help our struggling families.

“There are some people who have heard about this issue and said–that’s just the market. We should just leave it alone. If we start trying to address this true injustice, we’ll end up burdening the economy with red tape. I disagree. I say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

“New Jersey’s women make up over 50% of students in higher education. Women in our workforce are highly-educated, hard-working, and integral members of our communities. When it comes to the wage gap, we can and must do better.

“Undoubtedly, this is a complex problem for which there is no silver bullet. But I believe the significant negative impact of the wage gap on New Jersey’s economy demands that we attack this disparity head-on.

“There have been several federal and state actions that have sought to address pay equity, which is clearly one among
the critical issues we will address in this committee throughout this legislative session.

“One such measure is AR-50, a resolution I have sponsored urging Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and which we will consider in this committee today. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this committee on this measure and as we move forward in an attempt to tackle this problem right here in New Jersey,” concluded Lampitt.