The Equal Pay Act Of 1963

In 1963 equal pay act was passed by Congress declaring that women and men must receive equal pay for equal work ont he recommendation of JFK's Commission on the Status of Women.

"AN ACT: To prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce. June 10, 1963 [S. 1409]" These are the first lines of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Throughout history women have been paid less than men even when employed in identical jobs. It was generally accepted in the United States that men deserved to earn more money than women, even if their work was identical. The contemporary mindset was that men were the heads of the households and therefore were the primary income producer in their families.

Of course, this was not always so. In many homes the head of household and sole breadwinner was a woman, for various reasons, ranging from death or disability of a spouse to divorce or single parenthood.

Nevertheless, the widely accepted tradition was difficult to change. Even during World War II when women were encouraged to go to work doing the exact jobs men did, and massive propaganda campaigns were launched featuring "Rosie the Riveter" doing heavy labor, they received about half the pay their male predecessors made- and when the men returned from the war, women had to give up their jobs and let men have them back.

During the Progressive Era just prior to World War I attempts were made in some states to protect women by instituting minimum wage laws for women workers. But the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 1963. Then President John F. Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women recommended that Congress pass a law guaranteeing that women receive equal pay with men for equal duties performed.

The Equal Pay Act pointed out that:

"The Congress hereby finds that the existence "¦. of wage differentials based on sex--

(1) depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;

(2) prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources;

(3) tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;

(4) burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and

(5) constitutes an unfair method of competition."

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, but it met with many problems. The Equal Pay Act stipulates that wages cannot be lowered for one sex in order to prevent raising pay for the other. But some employers continue to debate what comprises equal work, while some even go so far as to change job titles and alter certain peripheral requirements so that they can say it is a different job and thereby continue to pay men more than they would women. Until the 1970s even 'Help Wanted' ads in newspapers were sexually divided, so it was difficult to determine if the requirements were the same or not.

In recent decades the act has been more often used in favor of women by considering 'comparable worth' of jobs performed rather than precise tasks. Comparable worth is determined by judging if one job is more expendable or more profitable for the company than the other.

The Equal Pay Act, for all its problems, has had a good effect on women's wages. Although wage disparity remains, with a woman in the year 2000 receiving, on average, only about three quarters to a man's dollar, the gap has narrowed since the 1950s when women earned about half what men earned, no matter what the job function.

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