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Proponents Plan Another Push for Pay Equity in Wake of New Study

Congressional proponents are renewing their call for pay equity for women in light of a new study on the issue that has flared in the presidential campaign.

The report released Wednesday by the American Association of University Women found that recent female college graduates earn less money than their male counterparts with similar degrees and experience levels. Women earn about 7 percent less than men in their first year out of school, when factoring in their college majors and other variables, the study said. Overall, recent male college graduates earn 18 percent more.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a longtime champion of the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR 1519, S 3220), said the report only reinforces the need to pass the 15-year-old legislation, which would require that employers pay men and women the same wage for similar jobs. The bill would also allow women to sue for punitive damages in discrimination cases and forbids employers from punishing employees for discussing their pay.

“The existence of a pay gap even after accounting for factors like career and college major demonstrates the need for Congress to act on the issue,” DeLauro said in a statement. “My Republican colleagues can no longer block the legislation, bury their heads in the sand and claim it is a myth. Our mothers, our sisters and our daughters deserve better.”

The report’s release two weeks before the election highlights the association’s interest in keeping alive the debate over gender-based pay equity that flared in the Senate in June and that has come up on the campaign trail.

Women’s advocates have taken Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to task for his position on access to contraception and for his refusal to come out strongly in support of pay equity laws.

When the candidates were asked about the issue during the Oct. 16 town hall debate, President Obama noted that the first major bill he signed after taking office was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (PL 111-2), which allows women to sue employers for discrimination long after the discrimination had occurred. He promised to keep pushing for pay equity in a second term.

Romney started off his answer by mentioning the now-infamous “binders full of women” job candidates he was given while filling his cabinet as Massachusetts governor. He did not address the pay-equity issue directly but said he could give the economy a jump start which would improve opportunities for women.

In Congress, Senate Democrats failed to get cloture in June on the Paycheck Fairness Act after no Republicans voted to end debate. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., sponsor of the Senate version, will likely reintroduce it in the next Congress, her spokeswoman said.

Earlier studies by the AAUW have found that women of all ages in the workforce earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. But the latest report suggests that the gap starts as soon as workers begin their careers when they have the same level of education and experience, and tend to be the same age and not to have families yet.

As a result, women must spend a larger portion of their earnings paying back college loans. The report found that 47 percent of women with full-time jobs were paying more than 8 percent of their earnings to finance college loans in 2009, compared with 39 percent of men.

Lisa Maatz, director of public policy at the AAUW, said the Paycheck Fairness Act would make it easier for women to know whether they are being paid less than male workers, which could go a long way toward reducing the wage gap.

“Right now in this country, it is perfectly legal for certain businesses to make personnel policies that say you are not allowed to talk about your salary, and if you do, you can be fired,” she said. “We obviously have a huge issue with that.”

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