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Photo Credit: MomsRising.Org

Today, April 9, is Equal Pay Day. It’s the day in the 2013 calendar year through which women have to work in order to earn the same amount as men did in 2012 – for the exact same work.

The National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) created Equal Pay Day in 1996 as a public awareness project to educate people about the wage gap between men and women. It is always the second Tuesday in April – Tuesday also signifying how long into the next week women have to work to earn one week of a man’s salary in the same position.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Fair Pay Act, one of the first pieces of legislation in history to discuss wage inequality based on gender. He called it a great first step of progress that affirmed “our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes.” 2013 marks the half-century mark since that statement – in which time, women have come to represent 47% of the American workforce. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that allows women an appropriate window of time to pursue claims of gender-based unequal pay in court. As incentive for employers to not use discriminatory wage practices, companies are also liable for back pay to workers who can prove that they have been unfairly underpaid.

And yet, despite these legal measures and changing statistics – women still earn twenty-three percent less than men. On average, women today earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn — which is only a 17 cent on the dollar increase since the Equal Pay Act was enacted 50 years ago. And even worse off are African American and Latina women, who are paid only 64 and 55 cents on the dollar compared to men, respectively. As the National Women’s Law Center points out, “the wage gap occurs at all education levels,  after work experience is taken into account,  and it gets worse as women’s careers progress.  Women are paid less than men in nearly every occupation.  One study examining wage gaps within occupations found that out of 265 major occupations, men’s median salary exceeded women’s in all but one.

I recently had a man tell me that women don’t deserve equal pay because, in his opinion, “women don’t work as many hours as men.” Infuriating, incorrect and uninformed, yes. But it seems that there are people out there who think this is true – or at least don’t care enough to try to do something about it. So how do we change the backwards thinking and policies that seem to have clung on since the Mad Men era?

Advocates look to the Paycheck Fairness Act as a huge step towards pay equality. This measure amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and updates the Equal Pay Act by creating stricter penalties for discriminatory employers, better mechanisms for data collection on pay equity, funds for a women’s salary-negotiation training program, and incentives to employers who work to close the wage gap.  Despite its promise, the Paycheck Fairness Act was defeated last summer on party lines, with all Republican Senators voting against it.

Women who are underpaid often have families to support, and their children are the ones who suffer because of gender discrimination. “It is not a women’s issue. It is an economic issue for families” points out Representative Rosa DeLauro (D – CT), cosponsor of the bill. There is hope that the US Senate, with a current record 20 female Senators, will be able to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year – but as of today, no vote is scheduled.

So what can YOU do today? Stand with all American women and send a letter to Congress informing them of your disappointment in their inability to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. And next time someone tells you why women shouldn’t be paid equally to men for the same work, help them get their facts straight.