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Backing Paycheck Fairness Act to End Wage Gap, Ocasio-Cortez Says Time to Pay Women 'What They Are Worth'

"If closing the wage gap continues at its agonizingly-slow current rate, men and women will not reach wage equality until 2059. That is forty years too long."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined her House colleagues at a press conference introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, to combat wage disparities based on gender and the lack of transparency which allows them to persist. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Joining several House colleagues in introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act to combat gender and racial wage disparities on Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) offered a challenge to employers and right-wingers who deny the existence of unfair pay gaps: "prove it."

The congresswoman highlighted one measure within the legislation that will prohibit retaliation against employees who disclose their salaries or seek information about salaries and pay disparities—with the aim of ending the culture of "secrecy" that has allowed wage gaps to persist decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

The Paycheck Fairness Act "makes it legal and it makes it totally permissible to share your salary information at your workplace, and that's incredibly important because for those who say that the wage gap does not exist, they should have no problem proving that," Ocasio-Cortez said.

The congresswoman joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and other representatives in unveiling the legislation 10 years to the day after former President Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. The Lily Ledbetter Act overturned a Supreme Court decision which severely limited the time period when an employee can file a discrimination lawsuit. The law's namesake was present at Wednesday's press conference and also detailed in a CNN op-ed why more work is needed to combat pay disparities.

"Our laws just aren't good enough," Ledbetter wrote. "Loopholes and inadequacies in the Equal Pay Act mean that pay discrimination persists throughout our economy. Even at the beginning of their careers, young women will typically earn less than their male colleagues performing the same job with the same education and experience. And because many employers still rely on job applicants' salary history to set pay, they will be forced to carry these depressed wages throughout their career and into retirement. What starts as a small difference grows through the years."

"We cannot ask people their salary history and pay people depending on their salary history anymore. Because it is time that we pay people what they are worth and not how little they are desperate enough to accept." —Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act which have allowed employers to claim their wage disparities between men and women are not based on gender, increase penalties for wage discrimination, order federal agencies to collect and publicize data on compensation, and bar employers from asking prospective workers about their salary history.

"We cannot ask people their salary history and pay people depending on their salary history anymore," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Because it is time that we pay people what they are worth and not how little they are desperate enough to accept."

More than five decades after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, atudies show American women still earn just 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Black and Latinx women earn just 65 cents and 57 cents on the dollar, respectively. Even a pay gap of just 2.6 percent can cause a woman to lose out on as much as $500,000 over the course of her career, according to a new study by Johns Hopkins University.

"The progress of women in the workforce over the last fifty-six years is evident, but the financial penalty many women experience due to sex- and race-based pay discrimination must stop," Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), said in a statement urging Congress to pass the bill. "If closing the wage gap continues at its agonizingly-slow current rate, men and women will not reach wage equality until 2059. That is forty years too long."

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