Today is Equal Pay Day, the date in 2014 on which women catch up to men’s average 2013 wages. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand outlined her efforts to close the wage gap.
According to the White House, women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households but earn 23 percent less than their male counterparts. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on two pieces of legislation that could impact women’s earning power. The Equal Pay Act would remove workplace impediments that, according to New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, are preventing equal paychecks. “It’s already illegal to discriminate against women in the workplace. The bill that we’re working on is creating more incentives for transparency and accountability so that we can actually encourage employers to post data about positions, genders and race and not discriminate against employees who discuss their rates, not necessarily personnel information.”
New York’s junior senator says it disturbs her that women, on average, earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns, and women of color make even less. “When women workers get shortchanged the entire family and the American economy gets held back. When women earn equal pay America’s GDP could grow by as much as 4%. Right now women are earning more than half of all college degrees and advanced degrees in America. They already make up about half of the workforce. So if we are ever going to out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the global competition American women are going to lead the way.”
Gillibrand adds the Minimum Wage Fairness Act is a crucial partner to the Equal Pay Act. “Women make up 62% of minimum wage workers. It’s simply unacceptable that in New York or anywhere in America a single parent working forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a year to support a family earns just $15,000 a year. If you have two kids, that is $3,000 below the poverty line. Under a bill we would give workers a raise to $10.10 an hour bringing their income up to $21,000 a year. With that added activity in the economy, we would create up to 85,000 new jobs.”
Gender pay inequity occurs in the private and public sectors. Women in the federal government on average make 11 cents less on the dollar than their male counterparts, compared to nearly 20 cents less in the private sector.
Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Brian Sampson says dialogue over equal pay must be cautious and any legislation must be fair to both the employer and employee. “When we talk about equal pay it has to be in a broader context of what specific positions are we talking about? I think when you look at some positions equal pay is already there. But some positions like science, engineering, those were male dominated for so long. Now we’re seeing a greater influx of females to do those jobs. There’s going to be a discrepancy between the pay simply based on experience. That will level out after time. But we should always be moving towards that. Relative to minimum wage, we believe it should be decided at the federal level and then all states would operate from there.”
President Obama signed an executive order Tuesday prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation. The president also asked the Secretary of Labor to require federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation by race and gender.