Equal Pay Day
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Despite many decades of progress, women still earn less than men in the United States. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 women’s earnings were 81 percent of men’s. Massachusetts mirrors the national trend.
These data also show that women continue to make impressive gains in educational attainment. Among women aged 25 to 64 who are in the labor force, the proportion with a college degree has more than tripled in the past 40 years – from 11 percent in 1970 to 36 percent in 2010. And women’s participation in the labor force has risen significantly in that time period as well, among married and single women and particularly for mothers. The labor force participation rate for mothers with children under 18 years of age is now over 71 percent.
Every year since 1996, the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) has marked an “Equal Pay Day” as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages. This year, that day was April 17, a date that symbolizes how far into 2012 women must work to earn what men earned in 2011.
Massachusetts General Laws prohibit employers from paying male and female employees different wages for comparable work. However, the law does not define the term comparable work, and the state’s job classification system has not been updated in more than twenty years.
Several pieces of legislation have been filed to tackle these issues, including a bill to establish a legal definition for job comparability based on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. I support this bill, which was favorably reported by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development in late March.
We know that eliminating the wage gap would benefit our families, our communities and our economy. But achieving pay equity for men and women requires us to address a host of related challenges, including economic development, support for caregivers, education, job training, affordable child care, and public transportation.
As a society, we also must examine why women continue to be over-represented in low-paying jobs and why certain fields – like teaching and healthcare – in which many women work tend to be lower paid. We also must continue to expand educational opportunities for all students in areas such as science and math, and encourage young women to pursue careers in high-paying fields like computer science and engineering.
Equal Pay Day provides a symbolic reminder that despite much progress, we still have more work to do – together.