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Equal Pay Act of 1963

John F Kennedy

Equal Pay Act of 1963: John F Kennedy was the 35th President who served in office from January 20,1961 to November 22, 1963. One of the important events during his presidency was the Equal Pay Act prohibited sex discrimination (gender-based discrimination) by employers.

Definition and Summary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963
Summary and definition:
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was U.S. federal law as an addition to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) passed in FDR's Second New Deal. The purpose of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was to establish equal pay for equal work among men and women.

The law prohibited sex discrimination by employers. Female employees were to be paid equal wages to men for equal work on jobs the performance of which required equal skill, effort, and responsibility in jobs that were performed under similar working conditions. Exceptions were allowed in cases where a seniority or merit system operated or when earnings were measured earnings by quantity or quality of production. Penalties such fines and imprisonment could be imposed on any person who willfully violated any of the provisions of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Facts about Equal Pay Act of 1963
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Equal Pay Act of 1963.

The idea for the Equal Pay law arose during WW2, when many women entered the workforce while men were fighting overseas. During this time many women joined the labor force and the fictional character Rosie the Riveter became a famous icon representing the women workers who made their contribution to the US war effort.

In 1941, at the beginning of the war there were 14.6 million working women. By 1944, as WW2 drew to an end, the figure had soared to nearly 20 million working women, most earned 50% less than men in wages.

Legislation called the Women's Equal Pay Act of 1945 was introduced by Congress but the bill contained the phrase "comparable work" and became subject of a heated debate and failed to pass. The words 'similar' or 'comparable' were not enough,  the work had to be equal.

The 1960's began to witness the rise of Feminism as women began to demand their Civil Rights. Congress was more supportive of equal rights for women and when the phrase "equal work" was used instead of "comparable work," the legislation gathered sufficient support to be enacted into law.

President John F. Kennedy supported women's rights, appointing women such as Esther Peterson to prominent positions in his administration and passed executive orders to advance women's rights..

On December 14, 1961, JFK established the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) via executive order 10980. Its purpose was to advise the president on issues concerning the status of women. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was appointed to chair the PCSW. The Commission called for federal action against gender discrimination and equal pay for women.

On March 6, 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, establishing the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity to investigate employment practices. Before the act became law, American women earned  approximately 60 cents for every dollar a man earned.

On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act and emphasized that the pay gap was the driving force behind the new law. Congress made pains to point out that the wage structure of "many segments of American industry has been based on an ancient but outmoded belief that a man, because of his role in society, should be paid more than a woman, even though his duties are the same".

The purpose of the Equal Pay Act  was to establish equal pay for equal work among men and women working within the same establishment.

To make a claim, female plaintiffs had to prove that they received unequal pay for performing a job that required proof that:

  1. An employer paid higher wages to men than to women

  2. Male and female employees conducted an equal amount of work that required substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility

  3. Work was performed under equal working conditions to that of a male counterpart

Exceptions were allowed in cases where a seniority or merit system operated or when earnings were measured earnings by quality or quantity of production.

It was significant that Congress chose to use the word “equal,” and not the word “comparable". The expression "equal pay for comparable worth" has been used in reference to the inequality in the pay women receive.

Section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided more comprehensive protection against sex discrimination by prohibiting discrimination by private employers based on sex and establishing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce the provision.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 did not originally cover professionals, executives, administrators or outside salespeople. But the Education Amendments of 1972 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to cover these employees

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 failed to achieve its aims for equal pay in the workplace. Organizations such as National Organization for Women (NOW) pushed hard for an amendment and on March 22, 1972, the Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which proposed banning discrimination based on sex.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was sent to the states for ratification, but fell short of the three-fourths approval needed. The amendment again failed to gain ratification in 1982.

The 15 states whose legislatures never ratified the Equal Rights Amendment are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been reintroduced into Congress every year since 1982, but it has never been voted on again. The majority of Americans mistaken believe that Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been passed. The pay gap is still 20%.

While the past century has seen extraordinary progress for women, the law has still not achieved all that was hoped for and women today still lag behind men in their wages, earning approximately 80 cents for every dollar a man earned.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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