Paycheck Fairness Act: GOP Congresswomen Says Women "Don't Want" Equal Pay Laws

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) appeared on NBC's Meet the Press today, claiming that women "don't want" equal pay laws.

"I think that more important than that is making certain that women are recognized by those companies," Blackburn said, responding to former White House advisor David Axelrod's question about whether or not she supported workplace gender equality legislation. "I've always said that I don't want to be given a job because I was female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job. And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein, that is what women want."

Blackburn has a long history of opposing legislative attempts to equalize our workforce, voting against the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act of the same year. And she's not alone. Last year's Paycheck Fairness Act died a premature death in the Senate, with four female Senators voting against it — Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Olympia Snow (R-Maine), and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Women "don't want the decisions made in Washington," Blackburn continues. "They want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions for themselves." 

This comes just a few months after a new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, released in March of this year, reaffirms that gender-based pay inequality in the workforce is still a reality for many women. "In 2012, the ratio of women's to men's median weekly full-time earnings was 80.9%, a decline of more than one percentage point since 2011 when the ratio was 82.2%."

Pay inequality is actually getting worse, the report finds, as a steady raise in women's rages compared to men's had plateaued, and begun to separate again, following the 2008 recession. Women's median weekly earnings in 2012 had fallen to $691, compared to $854 for men.

"Progress in closing the gender earnings gap has slowed considerably since the 1980s and early 1990s," the report continues. "Since 2001 the annual gender earnings gap narrowed by only about one percentage point. In previous decades, from 1991 to 2000, it closed by almost four, and in the decade prior to that, 1981 to 1990, by over ten percentage points."

It notes that at levels as they are, it will take women another 45 years — or until 2056 — to earn as much as men do.

Many point to the recession as part of the problem, as many public sector jobs have been slashed as states enacted austerity measures in hopes of balancing their budgets. Women faced 69.1% of public sector job cuts between June 2009 and March 2012, resulting in the loss of 396,000 jobs. Joan Entmacher, of the National Women's Law Center, explains: "As employees, [women] have disproportionately lost jobs in the public sector." She also notes that women are disproportionately reliant on public relief programs, making up 2/3 of Medicaid recipients. 

Many researchers also point out that the recovery has happened at a slower pace for women, as traditionally male-dominated industries have begun done the bulk of the hiring in the last few months. "You have a situation now where the sectors that traditionally employ men have stopped losing jobs and are actually hiring," explains economist Dean Baker. "Men really took a very big hit in the first phase of the downturn, but for now it seems that the sectors that are gaining jobs most rapidly are the areas that are employing men."

And in one industry largely dominated by women — retail — women still tend to earn less. Women make up 64% of "frontline" retail workers, jobs that are typically low-pay and low-skill, but comprise only 33% of higher paid manager positions. The average hourly rate for a female retail employee in the country is $9.77 an hour, compared to $10.64 for men.

"It continues to shock me that even in a female-dominated industry, women are earning less than men," says Stephanie Luce, a professor at City University of New York. A dollar an hour can make a tremendous difference for low-paid retail workers, where salaries barely scrape the livable wage.

In one particularly alarming study, researchers at the National Women's Law Center attempted to quantify these disparities by taking the $11,084 median difference in annual salaries for women and men in 2011, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau, and factoring that across an estimated 40 years in the workforce. They found that, at current rates, women earn an average of $443,360 less over the course of their lifetimes than men.

It would take them about 12 additional years to make up that difference … don't tell Marsha Blackburn.