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Our Work for Survivors’ Job Safety and Economic Security

January 28, 2022

A message from Deborah J. Vagins, NNEDV President and CEO:

This Saturday, January 29, 2022 marks the thirteenth anniversary of the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the landmark law that restored the rights of employees to have their day in court for ongoing wage discrimination that had been taken away by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

I was honored to stand by my friend, Lilly Ledbetter, in 2009 when President Obama signed the bill that bears her name. Sadly, we know pay inequality and other economic exploitation (including wage theft, low-wage and subminimum-wage work, unsafe working conditions, and on-the-job harassment and violence) still persist in our country, and they disproportionately impact women, particularly women of color. There are many pieces of critical federal legislation that would address these and other economic justice problems, which NNEDV continues to work on with our partner organizations. Unfortunately, progress has been slow, despite the overwhelming need for reform and workplace protections that have only been laid bare during the pandemic. There’s much more work to be done to ensure everyone can work safely and be paid fairly.

These and other types of exploitation too often impact domestic violence survivors, the vast majority of whom already experience financial abuse from their partners. Financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor dependent on an abuser and deeply diminishes their ability to stay safe if they choose to leave.

Securing or maintaining a job can provide some survivors with a lifeline despite ongoing abuse, allowing them to save money, build their credit by paying bills, and lay a foundation to help them leave an abuser and live on their own. Unfortunately, survivors in the workforce are still vulnerable to harm and violence on the job and, as survivors are predominately women, are often employed in the lowest-paying jobs and sectors, further jeopardizing their ability to leave and create a safer life for themselves and their children.

For survivors of color, survivors with disabilities, immigrant survivors, older survivors, and survivors from other marginalized communities, these concerns can translate into very meaningful pay differentials. For example, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), the average woman working full-time in the United States earns 83 cents for every dollar that a non-Hispanic white man earns. For women of color, the wage gap is even wider: Black women earn 64 cents and Latinas earn 57 cents. While the average Asian American woman earns $1.01 on the dollar, women in many Asian communities earn far less: as low as 52 cents for Burmese women and 54 cents for Nepali women.

Altogether, the compounding harms of wage gaps, workplace violence, and domestic violence (including financial abuse) threaten survivors’ safety throughout their lives and perpetuate cycles of violence across generations. For many survivors considering leaving an abuser, the financial and economic odds are stacked so high against them that leaving is, realistically, not an option.

Survivors deserve much better than these bleak odds. Increased access to economic and workplace supports—including equal pay, paid leave, and living wage requirements—can bolster their economic stability, help them leave an abuser, and ultimately prevent domestic violence in communities across our country. Working at these intersections has been at the forefront of NNEDV’s work, through:

Ensuring survivors’ safety and economic security on the job—and in every facet of their lives—is so important to NNEDV, to our state and territorial member coalitions, and to the programs, advocates, and survivors they support.  We will continue to advocate for strong federal legislative and executive branch protections for all workers, support our members in their policy work for state level protections, and provide programmatic work on financial abuse.

Our hope is to ensure that, by pushing for all these reforms, we can continue the legacy of champions like Lilly Ledbetter and so many other employment and labor rights advocates and leaders, and help survivors move to long-term financial independence.

I encourage you to stay in the loop and help us keep these conversations at the top of the national agenda.


 Deborah J. Vagins, NNEDV President and CEO