Hot/Not: Lilly Ledbetter and the Continuing Wage Gap

Welcome to our newest feature, Hot/Not, where we will spotlight a person, issue, or event that is on the brain.

Labor Day always makes us think of wage discrimination (Not Hot).  Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (Hot) which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to reset the statute of limitations with each new discrimnatory paycheck.  This was a huge victory for pay equity – but it wasn’t enough.  The Senate must now pass the Paycheck Fairness Act – S.182, introduced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was in the Senate. This bill has 33 co-sponsors…but not Virginia’s Senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb! Why? Virginia NOW sent each of them compelling letters, signed by dozens of Virginia voters, asking them to co-sponsor the bill. Warner replied; Webb did not. Senators Webb and Warner: it’s time to co-sponsor S. 182!

Here’s what you should know about the wage gap in Virginia…

Source: National Women’s Law Center, 2009

More than 45 years ago, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act (EPA) 1 into law, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. At the time of the EPA’s passage in 1963, women earned 59 cents to every dollar earned by men. 2 Although enforcement of the EPA and related civil rights laws have helped to narrow the wage gap, significant disparities remain and must be addressed.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 3 reversed the Supreme Court’s damaging decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire &Rubber Co., and restored prior law by making it clear that pay discrimination claims on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability “accrue” when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted, when a person becomes subject to the decision or practice, or when a person is otherwise affected by the decision or practice, including each time an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck.

Although the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act enables women to challenge the discriminatory paychecks they receive, Congress must now act to strengthen the laws that apply to those challenges and to require the federal government to be more proactive in preventing and battling wage discrimination. The House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act in January 2009.4 It will close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, enhance the procedures and remedies available to challenge violations of the law, and provide the government with tools to monitor and address pay inequities. Passing this bill is critical to realize the decades-old promise of equal pay for equal work.

I. The Gender Wage Gap Persists in Virginia
Although the gap between men’s and women’s wages has narrowed over the past three decades, on average women continue to earn significantly less than men.  In 2007, on average, women in Virginia working full-time, year-round earned only 77% of what men working full-time, year-round earned5 – one percentage point below the nationwide average of 78%.6

  • The wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together. White, non-Hispanic women working full-time, year-round in Virginia earned only 76% of the wages of White, non-Hispanic men. However, Black women working full-time, year-round in Virginia earned only 59%, and Hispanic women only 53% of the wages of White, non-Hispanic men.7
  • The wage gap persists at all levels of education. Women in Virginia with a high school diploma earned only 68% of what men with a high school diploma earned. Women in Virginia with a bachelor’s degree earned only 64% of the amount that men with a bachelor’s degree were paid. In fact, the average Virginia woman must receive a bachelor’s degree before she earns as much as the average Virginia male high school graduate.8
  • The wage gap exists across occupations. For example, Virginia women working fulltime, year-round in management, business, and finance occupations earned only 69% of what men in the same occupations earned, and Virginia women working full-time, year-round in sales and related occupations earned only 70% of what men in the same occupations earned.9

II. Virginia Women Are Particularly Vulnerable to Economic Hardship in This Struggling Economy  Women in Virginia already have higher rates of economic insecurity than men – on average they have lower earnings than men ($26,121 compared to $38,105 in 2007)10 and are more likely to live in poverty (11% of Virginia women compared to 7% of men lived in poverty in 2007).11 As a result, women are particularly vulnerable to economic hardship in this struggling economy. For example:

  • Women’s lower incomes make it harder for them to make ends meet. Between February of 2008 and February of 2009, the cost of groceries increased 5% in Virginia and home energy costs increased 9.3%.12
  • Although unemployment rates for men and women are rising nationwide,13 because of their lower earnings, women may have fewer savings to fall back on if they lose their job. Worse yet, women who lose their jobs are also less likely than men to receive unemployment insurance benefits.14 The unemployment rate in Virginia in February 2009 was 6.6%, a 100% increase since the recession began in December 2007 and the highest level of state unemployment in nearly 26 years.15
  • In part because of lower earnings, nationwide about a third of women borrowers receive subprime mortgage loans, compared to only a quarter of male borrowers.16 As the housing market continues to struggle, women may be more likely to face rising mortgage rates and even foreclosures. In 2008, Virginia had 67,695 foreclosure filings, a 201% increase from 2007.17
  • The worsening recession is affecting all Americans, but women – who were already in a more precarious economic position than men because of lower earnings and higher poverty rates – are more likely to rely on public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance.18 In 2007, Virginia provided food stamps to over 545,000 children and adults, an increase of over 30,000 from the previous year.19 Additionally, Virginia faces a mid-year FY 2009 budget shortfall of $1.1 billion and a projected FY 2010 budget gap of $1.8 billion (figures are as of winter 2009).20 Enacted cuts to education and programs that serve the elderly as a result of these shortfalls21 disproportionately affect women and will create further hardship for Virginia women and their families.
  • Congress must immediately enact the Paycheck Fairness Act to close the wage gap and help women to deal with these economic realities.

1 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).

2 U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Income Tables – People, Table P-40:Woman’s Earnings as a Percentage of Men’s Earnings by Race and Hispanic Origin: 1960 to 2005, available at (last visited Feb. 22, 2007).

3 Public Law No. 111-2, 123 Stat. 5 (2009).

4 Pursuant to the provisions of H.Res. 5, the text of the Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 12, was passed by the House and appended to the end of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, H.R. 11. The Senate bill, S. 182, has not yet passed.

5 NWLC calculations from the 2007 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

6 NWLC calculations from the Current Population Survey, 2008 Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement, U.S. Census Bureau.

7 NWLC calculations from the 2007 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

8 Population is workers ages 16 and over. NWLC calculations from the 2007 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

9 NWLC calculations from the 2007 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

10 Population is people with earnings ages 16 and over. NWLC calculations from the 2007 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

11 NWLC calculations from the 2007 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.

12 These statistics are from the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the South, which includes Virginia. Groceries costs are captured by the food at home category. Home energy costs are captured by the household energy category. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, “South Region Consumer Price Index: February 2009,” available online at (last visited 3-24-09).

13 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The Employment Situation: February 2009,” Table A-1 March 6, 2009.

14 Vicki Lovell, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, The Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act: Improving UI Equity and Adequacy for Women (September 19, 2007).

15 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Table 3. Civilian labor force and unemployment by state and selected area, seasonally adjusted, available at (last visited 3-27-09). NWLC historical calculations from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics database, Bureau of Labor Statistics, available at

16 Allen Fishbein and Patrick Woodall, Consumer Federation of America, Women are Prime Targets for Subprime Lending (December 2006).

17 RealtyTrac, “Foreclosure Activity Increases 81 Percent In 2008”, available online at (last visited 3-17-09).

18 In 2004, women were more than two-thirds of adult Medicaid beneficiaries. Kaiser Family Foundation, Issue Brief: An Update on Women’s Health Policy, October 2007, available (last visited 5-21-08). In 2006, about 68% of non-elderly adult food stamp beneficiaries were women. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Analysis, Nutrition and Evaluation, Characteristics of Food Stamp Households: Fiscal Year 2006, by Kari Wolkwitz. Project Officer, Jenny Genser. Alexandria, VA, 2007. In 2000, 84% of households receiving housing assistance were headed by women. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, A Picture of Subsidized Households – 2000, available at (last visited 5-21-08).

19 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Average Monthly Participation data as of February 27, 2009, available online at (last visited 3-10-09). Comparison is based on FY 2007 data compared to preliminary FY 2008 data.

20 Elizabeth C. McNichol and Iris Lav, “State Budget Troubles Worsen,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, revised March 13, 2009, available at (last visited 3-24-09).

21 Nicholas Johnson, Elizabeth Hudgins, and Jeremy Koulish, “An Update on State Budget Cuts: At Least 34 States Have Imposed Cuts That Hurt Vulnerable Residents, But the Federal Economic Recovery Package Is Reducing the Harm,” revised March 18, 2009, available at (last visited 3-18-09).


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Umidi
    Sep 13, 2009 @ 13:26:06

    I have always suspected discriminatory practices but have never understood how you could ask to know other salaries in order to highlight it. Are salaries public information? This discrepancy often occurs at the starting salary.



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