Congress banned pay discrimination in this country over 50 years ago, but at the current rate of progress it will take until 2058 before women gain pay equity, according to a recent analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And for women of color, it will take even longer.
Because women are still denied equal pay for equal work – and often equal work in the first place – families struggle to pay bills, local businesses have fewer customers, and children face a lifetime of obstacles rather than opportunities. The economic structures we now have in place systematically place a lower value on “women’s work.”
We don’t have to sit by and wait it out. We can change some of those economic structures. The Women’s Economic Agenda of the Washington Work and Family Coalition will help women catch up much more quickly. The Equal Pay Opportunity Act, Paid Sick and Safe Leave, and the FAMLI Act will require employers to change many of the practices that hide discrimination and keep women at a disadvantage.
Sometimes women are paid less for exactly the same job as a man – but don’t know it because so many companies impose pay secrecy policies. Even in establishments with open pay policies, company practices and manager assumptions can result in men being assigned to higher paying departments and promoted more quickly. Is there any other way to explain the fact that male nurses make more than female nurses, even controlling for education, experience, and hours worked? Or that in grocery stores highly paid meat cutters are mostly men, while lower paid deli workers are primarily women?
Washington’s Equal Pay Opportunity Act addresses both these problems by assuring employee free speech about compensation, and establishing that both differences in pay and differences in career opportunities need to be based on job-related factors, not on assumptions about gender.
Access to paid leave is also particularly a women’s issue. Mothers are far more likely to have to stay home with a sick child than fathers. Women provide more elder care as well, and of course only women get pregnant, give birth, and breastfeed.
But 4 in 10 U.S. workers don’t get a single day of paid sick leave – except in the now more than 20 cities and states with sick leave laws in place. Only 12% get paid family leave – except in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island where all workers earn that benefit (and women in New York and Hawaii have the right to paid maternity disability leave).
When all workers are able to earn paid sick leave and paid family leave, women and their families will have more stable incomes, be better able to save for education or retirement, and stay in jobs longer. Businesses will have healthier, more productive workers with less costly turnover. All babies will gain the lifelong advantages that come from intense early nurture and care. Children will be healthier and do better in school. The state will spend less on public assistance, remedial education, and senior care – and gain more tax revenue from additional money circulating through the economy. Our communities will be stronger.
Unfortunate, none of these bills will pass the Washington legislature this year. The House passed paid Sick and Safe Leave and the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, but both died quickly in the Senate. The FAMLI Act didn’t even make it out of the House.
So one good way to commemorate Equal Pay Day would be to contact your state legislators and tell them you want them to prioritize all three bills for passage in 2016. Our daughters and granddaughters, sisters and nieces, all deserve better than another five decades of inequality.