The House on Wednesday voted 242-187 for a bill that would strengthen protections for female workers and help close the gender wage gap. The vote comes as Republicans are trumpeting themselves as the champions of women’s economic mobility — though only seven of them voted for the bill.
Iterations of this legislation have been debated by lawmakers for decades but have never actually been able to pass. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), seeks to boost women’s pay by prohibiting employers from seeking job applicants’ salary histories and preventing them from retaliating against workers for disclosing their wages. It also would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect wage data based on sex, race, and national origin to better determine whether employers are responsible for discriminatory practices. The House passed the bill on Wednesday despite Republicans’ opposition, but it now faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate.
The House Education and Labor Committee voted to advance the legislation earlier this week. Every single Republican opposed moving the bill out of committee, with many saying the focus should instead be on providing more job opportunities for women.
Republicans often like to point to data showing that women gained 58 percent of new, private-sector jobs in 2018. Trump touted the figure in his State of the Union address in February, and Republicans in the Education and Labor Committee again brought it up when discussing the Paycheck and Fairness Act.
But many of the jobs gained by women are part time, and nearly 80 percent of them fell into just four categories: education and health services, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. In three of those industries, women make less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, or worse than the average national wage gap, according to a 2018 analysis by the Center for American Progress analysis. (Editor’s Note: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)
Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who focuses on work-family balance, pay equity, and women’s leadership, said, “It’s not to discount that women have received jobs and obviously want jobs but there is a disconnect. It’s not responsive to the question [of pay inequality]. The fact that you gave the jobs doesn’t change the fact that the jobs are underpaying women.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have been looking for ways to appeal to greater numbers of women voters, particularly since their support among women plummeted in the 2018 midterm elections.
In November, 59 percent of women voted for Democrats in the congressional elections, according to exit poll data. Only 40 percent of women voted for Republicans. There was no measurement for how nonbinary people voted across race or educational attainment. Black and Latina women overwhelmingly voted for Democratic candidates.
Although there was a roughly even split for how white women voted, 59 percent of college-educated white women and 56 percent of white voters ages 18 to 29 voted for Democrats. Experts say these shifts likely represent a long-term trend.
Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said the shift likely isn’t about Trump alone, but about the broader Republican Party.
“My hypothesis at this moment is that it is actually a trend because there were signs of this trend before Donald Trump, it’s just that you saw it through an acceleration I think — the departure of these women,” Dittmar said. “I think you’ll continue to see it because these women who are particularly upset with how the party has dealt with Donald Trump, it certainly leaves a taste in their mouth about the party overall.”
She added, “If you put these women on a scale when it comes to immigration or guns or the environment, their positions on these issues are just not aligned with the current agenda and leadership in the Republican Party.”
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that when looking at women who vote in the general election, college-educated and suburban women are identifying as more independent and Democratic. She said three major waves encapsulate that movement.
The Republican Party’s position on social issues — including birth control, Title IX, and sexual harassment and violence — led to some women moving away from the Republican Party in 2016. The second wave emerged as voters reacted to Trump’s racist and sexist behavior, as well as how he governs.
“The third wave, which is more recent, is a sense that the country is going in the wrong direction, that the priorities are wrong, that we are not dealing with everything from health care to climate change,” Lake said.
Lake said that for female voters, including Republican women, equal pay is high on the list of concerns, along with domestic violence programs. The reauthorization and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act is on the House agenda this session. But Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the only Republican in the House who is cosponsoring the bill and the only Republican who has shown support for the bill by attending its introduction.
“There’s a very high correlation between concerns about sexual harassment and concerns about domestic violence and concerns about equal pay.” Lake said. “And equal pay is still the most salient of the three with women overall. And it’s particularly salient with Republican women who are very adamant about equal pay and that it remains a problem.”
Dittmar said that across gender, voters are concerned about economic stability and the well-being of their families. But they are divided over who is responsible. She explained that college-educated women who identify as Democrats tend to say the government plays a role but Republicans tend to say it’s up to businesses to address equal pay.
“Broadly I think there is pretty high popularity for wanting to address equal pay but it’s in the how where you see the disparity both among legislators as well as the public,” she said.
Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment and earnings for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said these measures are necessary to ensure workplace fairness.
“What the Equal Pay Act recognizes and what the Paycheck Fairness Act is trying to update 50 years on to more current circumstances is that there is discrimination in the labor market and if you just rely on what people are paid now, you are going to pick up discrimination and import it into your organization,” she said. “You have to pay people the same if they do the same job and have similar education, experience and performance. You can qualify their personal performance but it has to be fact based.”
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, it will take until 2059 for women to reach pay parity if change continues at the current pace. Black women would have to wait until 2119 for equal pay, and Latina women until 2224.
“After what I would call a wave election in 2018 where women were elected to historic numbers in Congress, people have very high expectations of what they are going to get from lawmakers and it is not acceptable simply to say I support equal pay but I have nothing to show for it,” said Frye.