Commission on Women
Kentucky Women Are Still In the Red
By Eleanor Jordan
Tuesday April 22 is National Equal Pay Day. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) the day is observed on a designated Tuesday in the month of April because a woman must work this far into the year on average to earn as much as a man earned the previous year. (Tuesday is the day on which women’s wages catch up to men’s from the previous week).
Eliminating wage discrimination should be a top priority for Kentucky employers. Kentucky women’s earnings don’t even measure up to the national average. In fact, we rank 44th in median annual earnings for women. Hats off to Rep Mary Lou Marzian for again filing a bill (HB382) in the past session to address the wage disparity in Kentucky. Unfortunately it was never called for a committee vote in the Senate.
Although it is well known that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, and African American and Latinas earn even less (68cents and 57 cents respectively), it is not well understood that pay equity is more than equal pay- it’s also about comparable worth.
Historically some jobs and sectors like nursing, child care, secretarial etc. are female typed. Over the years many employers titled and filled positions according to gender, before considering experience and education. For example, if a company needed a secretary, only women were expected to apply. If a company needed an account executive- women need not apply. In other words, certain jobs paid less because they WOULD be filled by women.
My mother worked side by side a male co-worker for many years and performed the exact same duties everyday. She was paid less. Why? She was a maid… he was a custodian.
Rep. Marzians’s bill would have steered Kentucky employers in the direction of examining the systemic challenges that still exist which keep women from obtaining their comparable worth. This kind of legislation is needed to protect against wage discrimination to workers in equivalent jobs with similar skills and responsibilities, even if the jobs are not identical. Such bias can be demonstrated over and over, but more importantly it can be eliminated over time by assessing the economic value of different jobs.
Other states have successfully completed full implementation of a pay equity plan
by developing evaluation systems that are gender neutral. This is not an overnight process. Minnesota legislators passed their first pay equity act in 1984, but after implementation of a pay equity plan and subsequent compliance reporting, they have moved up 10 places in a national ranking of women’s economic status.
Opponents will argue that wage inequities are the result of women’s choices. Although many couples decide it will be the woman who stays home to raise children, a 2003 study by the Government Accounting Office indicates that wage discrimination plays the biggest role in the inequities. It should be noted too, that the lower salary earner tends to stay home with the children. Too often it’s the woman.
The Fair Pay Restoration Act (S.1843) introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy will be on the Senate floor for a vote this week and those of us who recognize the injustice of wage discrimination should make the effort to contact members of the Senate urging them to vote for the Act. The House has already passed the companion bill, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act aiming to correct the recent Supreme Court decision that severely hindered the ability of women workers to sue for wage discrimination. Ledbetter was a 20 year Goodyear employee before she discovered that men in the same job were paid more. The Supreme Court ruled that wage discrimination complaints must be filed within 180 days of the initial discriminatory salary decision, even if the victim is unaware of the discrimination until much later. This 5-4 decision by the Bush Supreme Court reversed decades of wage discrimination precedent under TitleVII of the Civil Rights Act. Justice Ginsburg, the only woman on the court, strongly dissented.
The elimination of wage discrimination makes good sense. Women are 52% of the Kentucky population and our wages make a big difference in how our families fare economically. Strengthening women will strengthen Kentucky. Wear something red on Tuesday to remind your employers that four decades after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act Kentucky women are still in the red.