Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The 50th Anniversary of JFK's Equal Pay Act

Though it was his last, 1963 proved to be a big year for President John F. Kennedy: his newly created Peace Corps reached 5,000 members, he proposed the Civl Rights Act which passed in 1964, and (particularly close to our hearts here at the MWPC), he passed the Equal Pay Act. 

Signed on June 10, 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the EPA serves to “prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers.” Far ahead of his time, JFK had a vision for equality, and his EPA  increased women’s salaries vis-à-vis men’s from 62% of men’s earnings in 1970 to 80% in 2004. And, yet, as we Bostonians join the rest of America in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the EPA, JFK’s vision is still in the making. 

Currently, women make on average about twenty-three cents less on every dollar than men. But, the goal of the EPA is nearly within reach, and politicians at the forefront of the ongoing equal rights movement have taken notice. As a senator, Hilary Rodham Clinton, for example, introduced the “Paycheck Fairness Act” in April 2005, which proposed to amend the EPA’s fourth affirmative defense to permit only bona fide factors other than sex that are job-related or serve a legitimate business interest; Rosa DeLauro introduced an identical bill in the House of Representatives on the same day. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned the holding of a Supreme Court case (Ledbetter v. Goodyear) regarding the applicable statue of limitations. 

Still, the Department of Labor has cautioned against jumping to conclusions about sex discrimination with regard to wages, noting after a 2007 study that factors other than sex in the workplace may be attributed to discrepancies in wages. In particular, men tend to dominate blue collar jobs, which are more likely to require cash payments for overtime hours, whereas white collar management jobs, in which women make up over half of the workforce, are often exempt from overtime laws. Additionally, many fields of work that pay higher-than-average wages continue to be male-dominated, another factor that can lend some explanation to wage differentials. 

Hence, parents, teachers, and mentors play a large role in aiding the equal pay cause by encouraging girls and boys alike to pursue careers to their liking, regardless of gender associations. In particular, girls need to be reminded that no field is male-oriented or must remain male-dominated. The government, on the other hand, has the responsibility of upholding the EPA and its successors while aiding the journey to greater equality in the workforce.

After all, JFK had a vision. At a speech at American University in Washington, D.C. on the same day he signed the Equal Pay Act, he declared, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.” 

Although the journey for safe diversity is far from over, the goal for equal wages among sexes is in sight, and we must keep JFK in mind as we sprint toward the finish line.