It’s been 50 years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. We’ve made a lot of progress since then, but as a working mom, I know that women still have a hard time getting ahead in the workplace. And, it’s no secret that financial insecurity is the #1 source of stress in Americans’ lives today.

More than ever, our families depend on women’s wages to help make ends meet. However, according to the US Census, women in this country are still being paid only 77 cents for every dollar that an equally qualified man gets for doing similar work.

Census data shows that gender discrimination in pay still exists across industries, occupations, and education levels. The size of the problem is especially shocking for Hispanic women in California who are getting only 44 cents for every dollar that an equally qualified white, non-Hispanic man makes.

Lower pay forces women to work more hours and spend more time away from their families just to make ends meet, but gender discrimination in pay is not just an issue for women. It’s an issue for California’s families, small businesses, and economy. We are all suffering because unequal pay is costing California’s households more than $37 billion a year in lost wages, which makes it harder for families to get ahead.

If we can end gender discrimination in pay, a working woman in California will be able to buy more than a year’s worth of food, pay for seven months of rent, or cover the cost of 2,100 gallons of gasoline for her family each year. She could save money for her kids’ education, and maybe even a little bit for retirement. These extra wages would be a real game changer for the financial security of California’s families. By unleashing this new spending power in our communities, our local businesses would be able to grow more quickly and create lots of new jobs.

The bottom line is that fighting for equal pay will help to create an economy that works better for all of us. Unfortunately, not all of our leaders “get it”. In fact, Congressman David Valadao recently voted to block consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would provide new tools in the fight against gender discrimination in pay.

By voting to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, Mr. Valadao has shown that he thinks we’re better off protecting the record profits of big corporations. I think we’re better off protecting our women, families, and local businesses. What do you think is the better choice?

American life has changed a lot since 1963, but our laws and workplace policies haven’t kept up. So if we’re serious about achieving equal pay, we’ll all need to do our part. We’ll each need to take a stand and make our voices heard, in our communities and at the ballot box. Most importantly, we need to elect leaders who are sincerely committed to fighting for the things we value.

It’s been 50 years since President Kennedy laid out the promise of equal pay. I bet he’d love the idea of a new generation of Americans stepping up to continue the fight on behalf of our families.