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Advocates Rally for US Gender Pay Parity, New Legislation

Activists gathered in New York on Tuesday — Equal Pay Day — to highlight a long-standing national problem: the gender pay gap.

Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, but more than 50 years later, pay inequality continues. American women make 78 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For women of color the difference is even more dramatic: African-American women make just 64 cents per dollar of men's earnings, and Latinas make 56 cents, according to the White House.

“This is not a women’s rights issue, this is a human rights issue," said Martha Kamber, chief executive officer of the YWCA in Brooklyn. "Women are mothers. We are raising the children of the future, the next generation, and if we can’t earn enough to support our families, then everybody, the whole community, suffers.”

Robert Cornegy, a New York city councilman, said he he tells his daughters every day "that if they are smart and they work hard, they can accomplish anything. I don’t want to tell them a lie. I want them to feel like they will be compensated equally for everything they do.”

The White House says the pay gap costs women nearly $450 billion a year in lost income. Beverly Neufeld said she founded "PowHer NY" to try to accelerate economic fairness.

“Because of the wage gap, the average woman working full time has to work about 15 months to make what the average white male makes in one year," Neufeld said. "So that’s a lot of bread [money], and it adds up over the course of a career and the course of a lifetime.”

The issue has received national attention and was highlighted by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in January.

“Nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages," he said at the time. "That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.”

But pay parity legislation has consistently stalled at the federal level. That's why lawmakers in several states have decided to take action.

In New York, state Assemblywoman Michele Titus introduced the Equal Pay Bill, which is expected to pass this year. It will protect employees who talk about their salary from employer retaliation.

“Employers don't usually allow their employees to discuss what pay other employees are receiving," she said. "So this is sort of like a silent discrimination — if you don’t know it’s there, you really can’t combat it.”

Advocates say the pay gap affects more than just women. A Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data released two years ago found that 40 percent of all households with children under age 18 included mothers who were either the sole or primary source of income for the family. As a result, activists say, the equal pay issue has an outsized impact on families.