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Mon Jun 10, 2024, 10:34 AM Jun 10

On This Day: Elusive Equality in the Equal Pay Act, now 77 cents or less on a dollar - June 10, 1963

(edited from article)
Elusive Equality in the Equal Pay Act
June 2023
Katherine Turk, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which bans employers from sex-based wage discrimination for “equal work” in jobs requiring “equal skill, effort, and responsibility” with “similar working conditions,” was the first in a decade of federal laws meant to open full economic citizenship to American women. Sixty years later, the nation’s economic landscape is crowded with inequalities. For every dollar paid to a man, a woman earns 77 cents, shortchanging their sex by almost $1.6 trillion each year. Women do not shoulder this burden equally. When a white, non-Hispanic man earns a dollar, a Black woman earns 64 cents and a Latina earns 54 cents.

Why have equal rights protections thrived alongside gaping wage disparities? The answer lies in the historic structures of American work and the contested meanings of equality, both at the EPA’s inception and today.

At the EPA’s sixty-year mark, it’s time to revisit the roots of unequal pay in America. The EPA has eroded the wage gap and won back pay for millions of women whose work could be defined as “substantially similar” to a male counterpart’s. But the Act only applies to workers in the same workplace. The EPA also leaves untouched the myriad forms of sex and race discrimination that keep women clustered in underpaid sectors.

Our current predicament—the veneer of equality draped over deep inequities—was not inevitable. Let us mark the EPA’s anniversary by demanding what has always been required to deliver on its promise: broader mandates for equality alongside a reckoning about labor’s value.

(edited from Wikipedia)
Equal Pay Act of 1963

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is a United States labor law amending the Fair Labor Standards Act, aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on sex (see gender pay gap). It was signed into law on June 10, 1963, by John F. Kennedy as part of his New Frontier Program. In passing the bill, Congress stated that sex discrimination:

- depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;
- prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources;
- tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;
- burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and
- constitutes an unfair method of competition.

The law provides in part that "[n]o employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section [section 206 of title 29 of the United States Code] shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs[,] the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex [...]."

Further legislation

The EPA did not originally cover executives, administrators, outside salespeople, and professionals, but the Education Amendments of 1972 amended the EPA so that it does.

In 2005, Senator Hillary Clinton introduced the "Paycheck Fairness Act," which proposed to amend the EPA’s fourth affirmative defense to permit only bona fide factors other than sex that are job-related or serve a legitimate business interest. Representative Rosa DeLauro first introduced an identical bill in the House of Representatives on the same day.

In 2007, the Supreme Court restricted the applicable statute of limitations for equal pay claims in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. On January 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned the Court's holding in this case. This bill, providing that each gender-unequal paycheck is a new violation of the law, was the first bill signed by President Obama.


Initially, a 2007 study commissioned by the Department of Labor cautioned against overzealous application of the EPA without closer examination of possible reasons for pay discrepancies. This study noted, for example, that men as a group earn higher wages in part because men dominate blue collar jobs, which are more likely to require cash payments for overtime work; in contrast, women comprise over half of the salaried white collar management workforce that is often exempted from overtime laws. In summary, the study stated: "Although additional research in this area is clearly needed, this study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers."

However, later, in 2021, a Department of Labor blogpost observed, "Women earn less than their same race and ethnicity counterpart at every level of educational attainment - Compared with white men with the same education, Black and Latina women with only a bachelor's degree have the largest gap at 65%, and Black women with advanced degrees earn 70% of what white men with advanced degrees earn. Educational attainment is not enough to close gender earnings gaps. In fact, most women with advanced degrees earn less than white men, on average, with only a bachelor's degree."


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