With Wages Still Unequal, Obama Issues Mandate to Combat Pay Gap

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With Wages Still Unequal, Obama Issues Mandate to Combat Pay Gap

Despite laws on the books, the median woman in America working full-time throughout the year is still paid just 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Today, 57 percent of women work outside the home, but the typical woman working full-time full-year still makes 21 percent less than the typical man working full-time full-year—and the pay gap is even greater for women of color. (Photo: LillyLedbetter.com)

In an effort to narrow wage discrimination and a persistent gender pay gap, President Barack Obama unveiled new rules on Friday that would require U.S. companies with more than 100 employees to provide summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity.

This mandate, according to the White House, "will help focus public enforcement of our equal pay laws and provide better insight into discriminatory pay practices across industries and occupations."

"Over time, paid leave could cut the pay gap in a less direct—but potentially more powerful—way than policies that aim at fighting straightforward discrimination, as vital as they are."
—Amy Traub, Demos

Federal law has banned pay discrimination since 1963, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—signed by Obama seven years ago Friday—makes it easier for people to challenge unfair pay.

Still, the goal of equal wages for equal work remains elusive for some.

According to an op-ed published Friday by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) chair Jenny Yang:

Today, 57 percent of women work outside the home, but the typical woman working full-time full-year still makes 21 percent less than the typical man working full-time full-year. And the pay gap is significantly greater for women of color: the typical black non-Hispanic woman made only 60 percent of a typical white non-Hispanic man's earnings, while the typical Hispanic woman earned only 55 percent.

The new proposal "would provide the EEOC and the Department of Labor with insight into pay disparities within industries and occupations," the administration officials write. "The agencies would use the pay data to encourage compliance with equal pay laws, assess discrimination complaints, better focus agency resources where there may be disparities, and reduce burdens on other employers."

But as Demos senior policy analyst Amy Traub points out in a blog post on Friday, "[b]eing paid less for doing the same job is just one aspect of the pay gap."

"Since women are more likely than their male counterparts to leave the workforce or reduce their work hours to care for children, elderly parents, or other loved ones in need, they miss out on pay, job experience, and opportunities to advance in their careers, further fueling the gender gap in pay," she explains. "As I've noted before, providing paid family leave boosts incomes and enables women to remain attached to the workforce. Over time, paid leave could cut the pay gap in a less direct—but potentially more powerful—way than policies that aim at fighting straightforward discrimination, as vital as they are."

As Common Dreams reported last year, only about 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave, which includes parental leave and other time off to care for a family member, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported Thursday that a coalition of progressive and women's empowerment groups are trying a "supernova approach" in state legislatures across the country, advancing bills related to the issue of equal pay in nearly half the states at once.

"Out of the 24 or so bills that are being introduced across the country this week, some have been tried in previous sessions, and others are breaking new ground," the Post wrote. "They also offer a range of tools, ranging from conservative—simply boosting protections for people who discuss salaries at the workplace—to more aggressive. A bill in Massachusetts, for example, would prohibit recruiters from asking prospective hires their salary histories, so that being underpaid early in one’s career doesn’t permanently impair one’s earnings potential."

Bills are also being offered in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington, Vermont, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, Iowa, Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona, and Alaska.

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