Women lawmakers, at convention, hammer pay equity issue

Citing hardship to women during the economic slump, they argue for legislation to strengthen protections against wage bias.

By , Staff writer

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    Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida (left) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan argued Tuesday at a Monitor breakfast in Denver in favor of legislation they say will help women achieve equal pay for equal work.
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Denver – As Democrats take up the economy on Day 2 of their national convention, key women legislators are gearing up to pass landmark legislation to crack down on wage discrimination.

"While everyone is feeling a faltering economy, women feel it with greater force and poignancy in every aspect of life," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D) of Connecticut at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in Denver on Tuesday. "It's why almost 60 percent of women say they are concerned about achieving their economic and financial goals over the next five years – 15 [percentage] points higher than for men."

Recent economic studies signal stark differences in economic prospects for men and women. Here are some examples:

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•Incomes for female heads of household are down 3 percent between 2000 and 2006.
•Half of women are in jobs without retirement plans.
•Risk of poverty increases with age for women. Retired women are more likely to be poor than elderly men.
•Women are one-third more likely than men to hold subprime mortgages.
•A third of women are in poverty, and women are losing jobs at a faster rate than men.

Just before breaking for August recess, the US House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to provide more effective remedies to victims of wage discrimination on the basis of gender. Now the bill moves to the Senate, where Republicans are threatening to block it, setting up a partisan firefight just before a national election.

Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who battled each other for the Democratic presidential nomination, back the legislation. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, does not.

"This is a pattern for John McCain of voting against the economic prospects of women," says Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan. Tuesday night Democratic women senators will speak at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) about their Checklist for Change, at the top of which is equal pay for equal work.

"John McCain says we deserve less pay because we are less educated and less trained, and that's ridiculous," added Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida.

Not only do women earn less, they often pay more, she adds. "Hair cuts are more. Tailoring is more. Dry-cleaning is more. There is a female tax. There are many instances in which women are paying more for the same services, so the inequality is really across the board," she said.

Also speaking Tuesday night is Lilly Ledbetter, whose allegations of wage bias against Goodyear Tire led to a US Supreme Court decision in 2007 that's been decried by antidiscrimination activists. "I am a living example of the effect of not being paid fairly and treated fairly on a job that you're doing the same as a male," she said at the Monitor breakfast.

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