States Use Equal Pay Day to Focus on Closing Wage Gap for Women

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By Tripp Baltz

States are ramping up proposals to implement equal-pay policies for women as the nation marks Equal Pay Day.

Legislatures and policymakers in many states say solutions they’ve implemented in recent years have failed to close the national average gap. Women on average earn 80 percent of what men in similar jobs earn. In some states women earn as little as 70 cents on the dollar compared to men.

A number of states marked the day by introducing new measures designed to do more. Equal Pay Day marks how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) April 10 announced legislation to institute a salary history ban. New York has the smallest wage gap, at 89 percent, according to the American Association of University Women’s data. The proposed ban would further close the gap in the state by prohibiting all employers—public and private—from evaluating candidates based on wage history. A similar bill will go into effect in Massachusetts July 1.

Colorado lawmakers passed a resolution calling on employers to implement equal-pay policies for their workers and unveiled two new legislative proposals to close the wage gap there. The proposed bills would (1) strengthen Colorado’s existing pay equity law; and (2) enact a prohibition on employers’ inquiring about a new hire’s pay history, Rep. Jessie Danielson (D) told Bloomberg Law April 10.

On April 9, one day before Equal Pay Day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said a California school system’s pay structure that factors in employee salary history violates a federal law intended to reduce the gender pay gap.

Strong state equal pay legislation is needed, in addition to a viable federal act and diligent employer action to examine their pay practices, Deborah Vagins, senior vice president of public policy and research for the AAUW in Washington D.C., told Bloomberg Law.

Widest Gap in Utah, Louisiana

Women in Utah and Louisiana face the widest pay gap, earning seven-tenths what men do, according to the results of an analysis released April 9 by the AAUW.

Utah’s equal pay law allows employers to retaliate against women workers who ask about their pay compared to men, according to Vagins. Louisiana’s equal pay law covers only public employers, she said. Alabama and Mississippi lack equal pay laws.

Mixed Results in Other States

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced on Twitter he will sign the state’s recently passed pay equity bill, which he called the “most sweeping equal pay legislation in America to close the gender wage gap.”

Rhode Island legislators are considering a bill (S2475) that would enhance the state’s current equal pay protection law by making it illegal to pay workers—male or female—less than their white, male colleagues without documenting the difference in their skill levels.

Pay equity measures have failed in some states. In South Carolina, where a recent study showed the wage gap is narrowing, a bill to address pay equity (HB 3342) was introduced, but failed to meet legislative deadlines for approval. In Florida, the Legislature let a pair of pay equity bills die in committee before adjourning its 2018 session in March.

The Alabama Legislature killed a bill designed to make employers more accountable for pay disparities. The bill will be back in 2019, according to Alabama House Democrats, who are in the minority.

In Illinois lawmakers continue to work on legislation that would amend and expand the Illinois Equal Pay Act.

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) nixed the idea last year. Democrats, who control both the House and the Senate, are taking a second swing with virtually identical legislation, House Bill 4163. The measure passed the House Feb. 28, and is gaining traction in the Senate, attracting 14 co-sponsors.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (D) signed an executive order April 10 barring any city department from asking job applicants about their previous salary history.

—Leslie Pappas, Andrew Ballard, Aaron Nicodemus, Chris Marr, and Mike Bologna contributed to this story.

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