Pay equity for women is a hot topic in Congress these days. Cynics say it is because Democrats are eager to stir up female voters who, according to the Associated Press, comprised 53 percent of all voters in 2012 and preferred Democrats by 11 percentage points.
The Associated Press points out that the voting rate for women drops in non-presidential elections like the one coming up in November, so Democrats are doing their best to get women interested in the election so they'll go to the polls.
Thursday, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) co-hosted a press conference with advocacy group Social Security Works to release new research that says closing the gender pay gap would strengthen Social Security's finances and improve women's benefits over their retirement. DeLauro said that currently women earn 77 cents for every $1 that men earn, and if women made more, they would pay more into Social Security. "Closing the gender pay gap would provide greater Social Security benefits for women and it would reduce the long-term Social Security shortfall by one-third," DeLauro says.
According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which has long looked at this issue, pay equity would mean raises for 59.3 percent of women, increasing payroll taxes and generating significant money for Social Security. In 2012, closing the wage gap would have increased women's income by nearly $448 billion dollars.
Pay equity would solve many problems
Not only would women pay in more, but they would also be less likely to choose spousal benefits, points out Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Spousal benefits allow the lower earner in a couple to claim up to 50 percent of the higher-earning spouse's benefit if it is more than she would receive -- usually it is a woman -- based on her own earnings record. Paying women more would reduce the incentive for this kind of double dipping in the higher-earner account. And, of course, it would give women more discretionary income to save for retirement.
DeLauro and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) have introduced The Paycheck Fairness Act that would build on the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to prohibit sex discrimination in the payment of wages. It also would require employers to show that pay disparity is related to job performance, not gender, and prohibit retaliation against employees who inquire or talk about wage discrepancies.
A related bill, expected to be introduced by U.S. Rep Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York), would give Social Security credits to workers who take time out to care for children younger than age 6 or elderly and disabled family members. Since many women's Social Security is lowered by having fewer than 35 years in the workforce, this bill could help women get higher benefits.
Don't be surprised if neither of these bills are ever passed by Congress. But if you have an opinion either way, voting in the November's mid-term elections is the right approach to being heard.