Clinton, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, and Advocates Call for Tougher Enforcement of Equal Pay Act

New York, NY (Sept. 16)—As the stock market wobbled under the weight of unsteady investment banks on Monday, Barnard President Debora L. Spar welcomed to campus Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and a panel of advocates and policymakers to address the persistence of a wage gap between women and men in New York and around the country.

Sen. Hillary Clinton calling for fair pay for women at program at Barnard College, September 16, 2008. Photo by David Wentworth.

"We pride ourselves on being a meritocracy, on having equal rights before the law, and yet the Equal Pay Act which was passed in 1963 has never been actively enforced," said Clinton, who was joined by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), New York Women's Foundation President and CEO Ana L. Oliveira, Women's Center for Education and Career Advancement Executive Director Merble Reagon, and New York City National Organization for Women President Sonia Ossorio. "We need to do everything we can to toughen the laws and pass new laws," Clinton continued.

"Today it would seem as if we've come so far. Women are coming closer than ever to seizing the highest ranks of power," said Spar, who provided introductory remarks and moderated the program. "Yet women across this country still face the kind of inequities that should have disappeared long ago: discriminatory working conditions and unequal pay."

The conference came on the heels of a report released last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which Clinton, Maloney and their colleagues had requested. The report found that the Bush administration has neglected to monitor the enforcement of the pay equity laws by failing to collect the data needed to uncover pay discrimination and failing to investigate law violations. Clinton called it "a ringing indictment of the Bush administration."

"A woman should not have to work 16 months to earn what men make in a year for doing the same work," said Maloney.

Before a crowd of television cameras, journalists, faculty, and students in Barnard Hall’s Sulzberger Parlor, Clinton and Maloney both reiterated their call for the Senate to address wage inequality by passing several pieces of legislation, including the Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House last month and is intended to strengthen protections and remedies under the Equal Pay Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Fair Pay Act.  The press conference was simulcast for students in the James Room.

While overall women make 78.4 cents to the dollar earned by men, the picture is starker if race is taken into consideration, said Oliveira, the New York Women's Foundation president. She cited statistics that African American women make 66 cents to the dollar, while Native American and Latina women take home 60 and 56 cents to the dollar, respectively.

Clinton weighed in on this inequity. "It's always a surprise in New York City for us to admit that, despite the dynamism and vibrancy of the opportunities available here, women, particularly women of color and mothers, are not getting their fair share for what they do," she said.

The Senator also expressed concern about how the current financial crisis could translate into more hardship for female workers.

"We see the faces of the leaders of these financial institutions and they are men," she said. "But backing them up, doing the work day by day to keep the organization running are thousands of women. And both the women and the men working for the financial services industry are now facing very tough times."

Barnard, one of the first colleges in the nation to admit women, seemed an apt choice to host the discussion. Several of the speakers made reference to the advances achieved by previous generations of equal rights activists at women’s colleges like Barnard and Wellesley, Clinton’s alma mater. 

Clinton urged the younger people in the crowd not to become complacent. She recounted her encounters with young women around the country who think the concerns of gendered pay inequality and discrimination in the workforce are no longer relevant. "I wish it were true," she said, "But unfortunately, we have work to do. This is not your mother's problem."

– Jessanne Collins