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October 19, 2008

Joe Biden Feminism Watch: Equal Pay

Joe Biden Feminism Watch #7

I was talking to Adam during the second debate between Obama and McCain, and we had a little mini debate over the absence of any questions about equal pay. He felt that while that's an important issue, it should take a backseat right now to more pressing economic questions considering the current crisis. I argued that equal pay is connected to the current crisis and the way that it affects people. What would the financial situations of women and families look like now if we had all been getting dollar for dollar throughout our careers instead of 77 cents or less? Would the economy look different today?

So it's safe to say that I was happy to see Barack Obama bring up the Ledbetter Act and the issue of equal pay during the third debate, and disappointed but not surprised by the way that John McCain totally blew it off. It's fascinating to me that in all of the talk about helping out "Main Street" and accountability and reform and who deserves a bailout and job creation and getting mavericky to solve our financial problems, there's relative silence about the idea that as we try to rebuild our economy, a good idea for a reform that would really help a lot of people on Main Street (like around 51% to be more precise) would be making sure that they receive equal pay for equal work, which might even have the supercool bonus effects of allowing people to do things like support their families without government assistance, make their mortgage payments on time, or send their kids to college. And let's also give them the ability to hold companies accountable when they fail to meet this basic standard. Maybe then we can watch companies ask the government for bailouts because they can't afford to pay their smart and talented female employees the salaries that they deserve. Then those women can leave and start better companies that will kick the asses of the sexist companies. Oh, and then I'll come back from my little Feminist Fantasyland and finally start talking about Joe Biden. But my point is that I think these issues are all connected. And I think Senator Biden might agree, so let's have a look at what his positions are on equal pay and the status of women in our economy.

On Senator Biden's website, he states his position on fairness in the workplace as it relates to women:
Throughout his career Senator Biden has supported efforts to level the playing field for women at work whether it is through legislation punishing sexual harassment or deterring pay inequity. Today, with women still earning 77 cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same work, the Senator is a strong supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Restoration Act. This legislation helps prevent pay discrimination by strengthening penalties should it occur and fixing a Supreme Court decision that makes it more difficult for women to bring pay discrimination cases. Senator Biden also supported increasing the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15, where it had been stuck for 10 years. This gave more than 7 million women a pay raise in 2007.

Biden also released a statement on April 22nd of this year, which is Equal Pay Day:

Washington, DC – Twelve years ago, Equal Pay Day was established by the National Committee on Pay Equity to expose the unfair gap between men's and women's wages. Today, women still earn on average 77 cents for every dollar a man earns performing the same work. Democratic Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) issued the following statement in observance of Equal Pay Day, April 22, 2008:

“It is true that America has come a long way since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law. Yet, we observe Equal Pay Day in the month of April because a woman typically has to work nearly four months longer than a man just to earn what he did in one year. This is simply not fair. And with a record 70.2 million women in the workforce, this wage discrimination hurts American families across the country.

“In the coming days, the Senate has an opportunity to take a step toward correcting this injustice by passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007, as our colleagues in the House did earlier this year. It is time to put aside partisan politics and uphold this country’s longstanding commitment to equal rights – including the principle that equal work should yield equal pay.”

Do you think that John McCain even knows that Equal Pay Day exists?

In our first Biden Feminism Watch, we wrote about Senator Biden's speech at the Women's Rally for Change in Virginia. He brought up several important points about women and the economy during that speech, saying that women are usually the first and the hardest hit during economic downturns and pointing out that the minimum wage is a women's issue because the majority of workers earning the minimum wage are women. (John McCain has voted several times against raising the minimum wage.) He also stated again that he and Barack Obama "value equal work for equal pay".

One more example. During the webcast that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton did together to take questions about women's issues, there was a question about pay equity.

Joe Biden: Abby from Philadelphia has a question, and she wants to talk about pay equity, which I'm happy we're talking about here. She says, "I hear a lot of candidates talk about equal pay for equal work. It seems apparent to me that women and men should be paid the same for equal work. Where does Senator Obama stand on this issue?"

Hillary Clinton: Well, this is one of the big differences in this campaign, and I think that everybody understands that today, in 2008, women still make just 77 cents for every dollar that men make, and African-American women just 62 cents, and Latinas just 53 cents. And we have all these studies - a recent one by the Institute for Women's Policy Research - that if we close this gap, the typical woman worker would gain roughly $5700 a year.

Biden: It's a big deal.

Clinton: Now that would be a huge deal. It's also a big deal for retirement. You were just talking about retirement and Social Security - well, the more you pay in, the more your salary rises, obviously the better your retirement. But when women are cheated out of their fair share, that affects their retirement as well. You know, last year, in a case brought by an extraordinary woman named Lilly Ledbetter, the Supreme Court actually made it harder for women to challenge pay discrimination. And I'm thrilled that Lilly Ledbetter is going to be by your side and by Senator Obama's side, endorsing you and standing up with you because she knows that you're worried about equal pay, there's only one ticket that is going to care about whether or not women get equal pay. And it's not just a women's issue. It's a family issue, it's a children's issue, it's a men's issue. Because when women aren't paid what they deserve, families find themselves with less income and they have to work even harder to get by. Think about how many thousands of dollars Lilly Ledbetter's family lost over the years...

Biden: Exactly right.

Clinton: ...money that could have gone for gas or groceries or saved up for college or retirement. And think of how many families today just like Lilly Ledbetter's are losing out because the women in their family are not being paid in equity with men. You know, we see the effects on families across the country. We know that women's poverty rates are higher than men's poverty rates. We know that women working full time have to still rely on food stamps to bring food for the table for their kids, and we know that so many families couldn't get by without relying on the income that working women have earned. So you'd think that this would not be a partisan issue and there would be no divide between the Republicans and the Democrats because this is a question of justice and equality. But unfortunately, there is such a gap. And we've tried, as you know, to fix the Lilly Ledbetter problem that the Supreme Court created. Senator McCain and Senator Obama have a huge difference on this issue. Senator McCain thinks the Supreme Court got it right when Lilly Ledbetter was denied justice. He opposed legislation that I cosponsored to reverse that decision. He suggested that the reason women don't get equal pay isn't discrimination on the job, it's because they need more education and training.

Biden: (laughs) [We'd say that's the best response to McCain's incorrect and illogical and offensive position on this issue.]

A bit later in the conversation he added one more comment on this issue:

Biden: This is not a zero sum game. I don't know how many times out on the road I hear the following: "you know, if my wife loses her job, we lose our house"...I mean, the idea that they've been able to convince - and I think the subliminal message that the right is sending is "somehow, if you pay a woman equal to a man, it's going to cost a man". This does not cost - men should be out there going "pray god, pay my wife what she deserves".

Okay, wait, just one more:

Biden: I give you my word, I would have never joined this ticket if I didn't believe Barack Obama was as committed as I am, and as committed as Hillary is, to make sure that women have an equal shot. His daughters deserve it, our daughters deserve it, my wife deserves it, and my mother should have had it.

It's starting to sound like Joe Biden just might support that dangerous "liberal feminist agenda" that John McCain keeps trying to warn us about.


Adam said...

Just to clarify a bit, my position is that during the debates equal pay should 'take a backseat' to our hearing the candidates detail what their plans are for the economic crisis. Of course I support equal pay as a major issue, and I'm happy (and would have expected) for it to be mentioned during the debate. It is a campaign issue that affects who gets my vote.

Jezebel also made the argument that women are hurt far more by economic downturns than men. I still don't have an answer to that.

Anonymous said...

Women spent about 3.7 trillion in 2007 (the highest of any demographic group). How can the issue of equal pay for women take a backseat to the economic crisis... when women are such a huge part of the economy in the first place.