#10YearChallenge: The Struggle for Equal Pay Remains

February 5, 2019Ally Karpel

The #10YearChallenge gained widespread traction on social media this month: This catchy Facebook trend calls for users to post posting two side by side photos of themselves — one from 2009 and another from 2019 — to show how much they’ve changed in the last decade. My newsfeed has been flooded with friends, teachers, and acquaintances alike who were eager to participate in this silly, yet somehow intriguing, online craze. The enthusiasm around the trend encouraged me to reflect on what else has changed over the past decade of my life.

Ten years ago, I was preparing for my bat mitzvah, nervously practicing my Torah and haftarah portions and excitedly planning the seating arrangements for my Broadway themed after-party.

Ten years ago, we witnessed the inauguration of the country’s first Black president and mourned the loss of celebrities like Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, and Brittany Murphy.

And ten years ago this very week, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill to be signed by President Obama, overturned the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., which upheld a severely restricted time period for workers to file complaints of wage discrimination. Prior to the Ledbetter Act, employees were required to file a complaint within 180 days of the original paycheck in which they were paid less than a coworker of similar role.

This rule ignored the realities of employment practices. Employers rarely advertise their discriminatory practices, and it takes time, often years, before an employee may become aware of the disparate wage. Thanks to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, each paycheck with unequal pay resets the 180-day limit to file a wage discrimination claim.

The Ledbetter Act is a critical tool for women, and for all people who experience wage discrimination based on gender, race, (dis)ability, or other identity factors. Yet, a full decade after Ledbetter, we still have so far to go to reach pay equity.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau Income and Poverty report showed that the gender wage gap continues to persist. The 2017 female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.805. This means, that for every dollar earned by white men, full-time working women were paid only 80 cents. And for women of color, the wage gap is even starker: Black women made 61 cents for every dollar their white, male counterpart made, while American Indian women made 58 cents and Latina women came in at 53 cents.

Pay equity is a civil rights and human rights issue. In a country that places so much emphasis on the idea that hard work leads to success, paying women less than their male counterparts signals that their work is worth less – and, as a result, that they are worth less. Our understanding that fair wages are tied to human dignity is grounded in Jewish text and tradition, which teaches, “one who withholds an employee's wages is as though [he] has deprived [him] of his life" (Baba Metzia 112a).

Here’s what you can do to ensure that we continue to make progress toward pay equity:

  • Check out the Reform Pay Equity Initiative, created by the Women of Reform Judaism and Women’s Rabbinic Network to assess the salaries of the professionals who serve Reform institutions and develop a plan to address inequities.
  • Urge your members of Congress to cosponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation supported by the Reform Movement and many of our partners that would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by barring retaliation against workers who voluntarily discuss or disclose their wages; ensuring individuals can receive the same robust remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subjected to discrimination based on race and ethnicity; and prohibiting employers from relying on salary history in determining future pay so that pay discrimination doesn’t follow workers from job to job.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced into the 116th Congress last week. Take action now by encouraging your member of Congress to cosponsor this important piece of legislation.

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