50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This historic amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, was rooted in the basic concepts of equality, opportunity, and value of work. These are timeless concepts cherished by a society that values the contributions women and men bring to industry through their labor.
The recognition that one’s abilities, steadfastness, and achievements should determine one’s wages, rather than one’s gender, was a major milestone at the time and provided the foundation for great progress made by women in the workplace over the past five decades. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1979, women working full time earned 62 percent of what men did; twenty-two years later, women’s earnings were 82 percent of men’s. Far from perfect, this is still progress.
In today’s global and innovation economy, we need to encourage more women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as well as the skilled trades. Apprenticeship is also an excellent workforce development tool that can boost women’s earnings while fostering a skilled workforce.
As we pause to reflect on this important milestone in labor law, we celebrate President Kennedy’s commitment to upholding the value of the American worker. Drawing on his commitment 50 years later, we re-affirm the purpose of equality in the workplace by ensuring that all workers are compensated with equal pay for equal work.