Today, President Obama asked me to join him in solving a problem that should have been solved long ago.
The pay gap costs the typical working woman hundreds of thousands of dollars over her career, and for women of color, the gap is even larger. Women working hard every day to support their families aren’t being rewarded with a fair wage. Especially as the father of two daughters just a few years from entering the workforce, I am committed to closing this gap.
Every year on Equal Pay Day we pause to recognize the extra time, on average, women must work in order to get the same pay that men receive in a year. This is not only unfair; it’s bad for our economy, costing us more than $400 billion in lost productivity. As President Obama has said, “In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, we must use all of America’s talent to its fullest potential – because when women succeed, America succeeds.”
This morning, the president put that belief into action. With the stroke of a pen, he authorized two executive actions that will help the Labor Department better detect and combat pay discrimination wherever we find it.
First, the president signed an executive order that prohibits retaliation by federal contractors against workers who discuss their pay, lifting the restrictions that keep too many workers in the dark and preventing them from advocating for fair and equal pay. He also signed a presidential memorandum directing me to issue new regulations collecting summary pay data from federal contractors. Collectively, these two actions will enhance pay transparency and give workers and investigators the tools they need to identify and remedy discrimination.
We know that almost half of all workers report that they are forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing pay in the workplace. By eliminating this sort of retaliation, we can empower workers with the information they need to safeguard their own rights. And by collecting pay data from employers, we can help them better identify pay disparities in their own workplaces and help us focus on discrimination that most workers don’t even know about.
At the Department of Labor, I am proud of the work we’ve already done to close the pay gap – from recovering back pay for workers paid less due to discrimination, to educating workers about their rights and employers about their responsibilities. We are ready to take on these new responsibilities that can make our enforcement the credible deterrent it needs to be. But we are also ready to work with federal contractors who want to implement these new actions most effectively in their own workplaces. Our goal is always to support voluntary and proactive compliance with the law.
Scholars estimate that closing the pay gap would cut the poverty rate for working women in half. Today’s executive actions, along with raising the minimum wage will help create more opportunity for all working women and their families. And when we put more money in women’s pockets, it provides a boost for the whole economy
Today we mark Equal Pay Day as the distance between our nation’s promise of equal opportunity and the reality. One day soon, I believe we will close that gap for good. And then every day will be an Equal Pay Day.