Remarks Upon Signing the Equal Pay Act
I am delighted today to approve the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits arbitrary discrimination against women in the payment of wages. This act represents many years of effort by labor, management, and several private organizations unassociated with labor or management, to call attention to the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job. This measure adds to our laws another structure basic to democracy. It will add protection at the working place to the women, the same rights at the working place in a sense that they have enjoyed at the polling place.
While much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity--for the average woman worker earns only 60 percent of the average wage for men--this legislation is a significant step forward.
Our economy today depends upon women in the labor force. One out of three workers is a woman. Today, there are almost 25 million women employed, and their number is rising faster than the number of men in the labor force.
It is extremely important that adequate provision be made for reasonable levels of income to them, for the care of the children which they must leave at home or in school, and for protection of the family unit. One of the prime objectives of the Commission on the Status of Women, which I appointed 18 months ago, is to develop a program to accomplish these purposes.
The lower the family income, the higher the probability that the mother must work. Today, 1 out of 5 of these working mothers has children under 3. Two out of 5 have children of school age. Among the remainder, about 50 percent have husbands who earn less than $5,000 a year--many of them much less. I believe they bear the heaviest burden of any group in our Nation. Where the mother is the sole support of the family, she often must face the hard choice of either accepting public assistance or taking a position at a pay rate which averages less than two-thirds of the pay rate for men.
It is for these reasons that I believe we must expand day-care centers and provide other assistance which I have recommended to the Congress. At present, the total facilities of all the licensed day-care centers in the Nation can take care of only 185,000 children. Nearly 500,000 children under 12 must take care of themselves while their mothers work. This, it seems to me, is a formula for disaster.
I am glad that Congress has recently authorized $800,000 to State welfare agencies to expand their day-care services during the remainder of this fiscal year. But we need much more. We need the $8 million in the 1965 budget for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare allocated to this purpose.
We also need the provisions in the tax bill that will permit working mothers to increase the deduction from income tax liability for costs incurred in providing care for their children while the mothers are working. In October the Commission on the Status of Women will report to me. This problem should have a high priority, and I think that whatever we leave undone this year we must move on this in January.
I am grateful to those Members of Congress who worked so diligently to guide the Equal Pay Act through. It is a first step. It affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes.
We have some of the most influential Members of Congress here today, and I do hope that we can get this appropriation for these day-care centers, which seems to me to be money very wisely spent, and also under consideration of the tax bill, that we can consider the needs of the working mothers, and both of these will be very helpful, and I would like to lobby in their behalf.
Note: The President spoke in his office at the White House. As enacted, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 is Public Law 88-38 (77 Stat. 56).
John F. Kennedy, Remarks Upon Signing the Equal Pay Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236653