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A Step Toward Equal Pay

Some injustices are not always as easy to spot. In fact, sometimes they're well hidden. Therefore if we want to end wage disparities, and give women the justice, and pay, they deserve, than we must take the first step in bringing this discrimination to light.
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The following was penned by Senator Liz Krueger and New York Women's Agenda & Equal Pay Coalition NYC

The United States has always been a beacon of democracy. And as Americans, we take pride in our basic principles that are rooted in the democratic notions of freedom and equality. Yes, injustices persist, and we continue to fight and break down barriers that prevent access to basic rights. But what happens when these problems are kept well hidden and are not as easy to identify or expose?

Today, we would venture to assume that most women, especially those who are relatively new to the work force, presume that their salaries have everything to do with job performance and responsibility, and nothing to do with gender. However, 48 years after President John F. Kennedy sought to end gender-based pay discrimination and close the wage gap through the Equal Pay Act, pay inequality rooted in gender bias continues to persist. Today, women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, up from 59 cents in 1963, meaning the wage gap has narrowed at a dismal rate of less than a half a cent per year.

Part of the problem is that occupation segregation still exists, and women continue to be pigeonholed into "pink collar" jobs, which typically depress their wages. However, even advanced education doesn't prevent pay inequities. As early as one year out of college, pay gaps between men and women with the same background, and college major, emerge. For those women who major in "male dominated" fields, the pay differential is even greater. For example, while women earn 95 percent as much as men in the field of education, they only earn 76 percent as much as men in mathematics, just one year into the job. Even here, in the State of New York, women who've earned a college degree, or more, earn an average of $53,000, while men in the same category earn $65,000.

Just as education plays a factor in wage gaps, so does race. Studies have shown that the pay gaps between African-American and Latina women and white men are even greater than that between white women and men. In 2007 African-American women earned 69 cents for every dollar, while Latinas earned just 59 cents.

Yet even if someone suspects they are the victim of wage discrimination, they often can't prove it. According to results form a recent IWPR/Rockefeller Survey, nearly half of all workers, across the nation, are either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their salary with colleagues. In the private sector, where pay secrecy is most pervasive, the gender wage gap for full-time workers is 23 percent. Conversely, in the Federal Government, where salaries are transparent and made available to the public, the gender wage gap is only 11 percent. Therefore, while salary transparency may not end wage discrimination, it can certainly help expose, and hopefully change, the most egregious abuses.

With women now half of the paid work force, and two-thirds of women serving as either the primary or co-bread winners, the results of unequal pay is having a profound effect on families, our state, and our nation's economic recovery. In real life terms, in New York that is an average loss of over $8,500 annually which equals a year's supply of food, months of rent, 2,000 gallons of gas, child care or a family's health insurance.

The effects of pay inequity even continue after a woman retires. In fact, some of the repercussions only grow stronger. Due to reduced pay throughout their lives, many women have inadequate pensions, savings and other financial resources when they retire. And, because statistics show that women live longer than men, we are seeing an increase in poverty in our older generations. Ironically, the increase in dependence on public service programs for the elderly will wind up costing our nation much more than what it would have cost to just pay these women adequate wages in the first place.

We applaud the members of the NYS Assembly, who have taken action to end this discriminatory and harmful practice by passing a comprehensive bill -- the Fair Pay Act -- on Equal Pay Day in April, as they have done annually since 2002. However, the Fair Pay Act (S2200 / Krueger), is again stalled in the Senate. In an effort to gain at least a piece of the needed reform proposed by the Fair Pay Act, I have recently introduced legislation (S5674), which is sponsored by coalitions and advocates across New York, that focuses solely on protecting workers' rights to speak about salaries. This bill has no price tag for business, and it will enable New York workers to freely discuss their salaries, and inquire about others', without the threat of retaliation.

Some injustices are not always as easy to spot. In fact, sometimes they're well hidden. Therefore if we want to end wage disparities, and give women the justice, and pay, they deserve, than we must take the first step in bringing this discrimination to light. Every New Yorker deserves to know that they are being paid fairly, right away. With three days left in the legislative session, I and NYWA/EPCNYC call on legislators to pass this bill and help us move one step forward towards ending wage discrimination.

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