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Senate Hearing Focuses on Women’s Economic Opportunity

On May 13, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing, “Expanding Economic Opportunities for Women and their Families.

Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director, Independent Women’s Forum, focused her testimony on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84/S. 2199). Speaking in opposition to the bill, she said, “The bottom line is that the Paycheck Fairness Act would not create either ‘fairness’ or equal pay; it would simply expand the definition of ‘wage discrimination,’ making it easier, as with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act [P.L. 111-2], to file lawsuits, and open businesses up to greater litigation and uncertainty – all of which would be devastating to workplace flexibility and job creation and bad for both men and women. Though ultimately, the Paycheck Fairness Act would hurt women more, by becoming more costly to employ, and by forcing employers to worry about the increased risk of litigation.” She continued, “Let’s remember that equal pay is already the law. There are two federal laws in place to protect employees from gender-based wage discrimination – the Equal Pay Act (1963) [P.L. 88-38] and the Civil Rights Act (1964) [P.L. 88-352]. Also, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which the president signed into law in 2009, further extends the amount of time a worker has to bring a discrimination suit against her employer.”

Dr. Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, highlighted several policies that she believes would improve women’s economic status: “Women across the wage distribution need more access to work-family policies in order to better balance the dual demands of work and home,” said. She continued, “Polices such as paid sick days, paid family leave, and schedule flexibility would fill an important inequality gap for workers, especially women. This basket of work-family policies would allow both women and men to remain in the labor force while dealing with life’s emergencies. The United States is an outlier among other developed nations in not offering work-family policies to workers. Nor have employers in our country stepped in to provide these benefits. In 2013, only 61 percent of workers had employer-provided paid sick days. An even smaller share of workers – only 12 percent – had access to employer-provided paid leave, which can be used to recover from an illness or care for a family member…The lack of family friendly policies makes it harder for women to stay employed and provide financially for their families.”

AnnMarie Duchon, associate director, Accommodation Services, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, also testified.

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