President Obama's quest to become every American woman's personal BFF began shortly after his inauguration, when he signed the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act into law. The purpose of the act was to extend the statute of limitations on wage discrimination regulations, so that women who discovered several years later that they were being stiffed by their employers could still file a lawsuit. But in spite of new protections for women in the workplace, since the Act has been signed into law, the number of fair pay lawsuits has actually decreased. Is this a solution in search of a problem?
Effectuality and usefulness of the law notwithstanding, the President's made equal central to his campaign. Lily Ledbetter herself was in the front row of an April fundraising event for the President, and Obama makes almost daily mention of the fact that he supports equal pay for women between braiding our hair and telling us that we look totally fierce in that one shoulder dress we were thinking of wearing to the club.
But the effect of Ledbetter may be overblown, according to Bloomberg:
In 2009, when Obama signed the legislation, there were 2,268 sex-based wage discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission either under the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was amended by the Ledbetter Act, or both. Because the law was retroactive, the EEOC reviewed pending cases at the time of the Supreme Court decision and reinstated claims for more than 1,100 people. In 2011, the number of complaints went down to 2,191.
Meanwhile, the pay gap in 2010 showed that women earned 77.4 percent of men's salaries, down from 77.8 percent in 2007 before the recession hit.
So, we're being paid less with respect to men, but we're also filing fewer lawsuits, even though more women are able to do so.
This isn't a function of the law's effectiveness, but rather a function of the economic climate. When jobs are scarce, employees are more hesitant to risk antagonizing their bosses with a lawsuit and shy away from having the stain of "employee who sued their employer" in their personal history. Suing an employer can be time-consuming and expensive, and women being discriminated against may lack the resources to sue. Further, many women who are discriminated against don't even know it — most information employees would need in order to even begin to suspect that they were being paid less for equal work is inaccessible or private.
To claim that just because something's not in use that it should be discarded or isn't important is absurd. An office building that's experienced smoke damage from a small fire shouldn't have all of its extinguishers removed because no one chose to use them during the fire. If everyone on a cruise ship claims to know how to swim, it doesn't make any sense to remove the life preservers.