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Sen. Jehlen Confronts the 'Wage Gap' Between Men and Women

"The wage gap costs the average working woman $150 each paycheck, $8000 each year, and $380,000 during her lifetime," writes Jehlen.

Editor's note: In the following letter to the editor, Somerville State Sen. Patricia Jehlen talks about the pay gap between men and women.

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Equal Pay for Equal Work? Can We Afford to Wait Another 46 Years?

If you were frantically trying to submit your returns before the deadline, you may have missed that April 17th was significant for a reason other than taxes.  It was Equal Pay Day, a day designed to raise awareness about the fact that even after decades of progress, women still only earn about 80 cents for every dollar that men earn.  That means that the wage gap costs the average working woman $150 each paycheck, $8000 each year, and $380,000 during her lifetime!  

Since 1963, the wage gap has been narrowing at less than half of one cent a year.  At this rate, it will not be eliminated until around 2058. Furthermore, as time passes the wage gap issue becomes increasingly important. More and more working families rely on women as a major, if not the major, breadwinner in the household. So the wage gap is not just a women’s issue, but a family issue; it is one of the driving factors behind child poverty in the United States. More than 20% of children in the US are living in poverty, the highest rate in the developed world.  

There are many reasons why this stubborn wage gap is closing so slowly. Some of the problem is attitude; studies show that the attitudes of male bosses can still affect the pay of their female employees. Some of it is the fact that women are still the primary care givers for children and older relatives, which affects the career trajectory of women and removes them from the work force for stretches of time.  

However, an important reason is structural. Jobs that are traditionally filled by women are paid less than jobs that are traditionally filled by men The person that takes care of our car makes more than the person that takes care of our children.  

Even when different jobs for the same employer require the same skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions they often contain a structural wage gap.  This was the case in the Everett Public Schools where the custodians, mostly men, were being paid substantially more than the food service workers, mostly women.  A lawsuit by the food service workers made it all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.  However that court ruled against the food service workers because the term “comparable work” was not properly defined in the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act.  To remedy this problem Representative Alice Wolf and I filed a bill to make it clear that comparable positions are those that require comparable skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.  

The Comparable Work Bill is a small but vital step to close the structural wage gap.  Equal work deserves equal pay.  This bill will ensure that substantially similar employees working for the same employer will be paid equally.  Closing the wage gap is too important to women, families, and the Massachusetts economy to wait any longer.  We must enact this simple and common sense bill now.

To celebrate Equal Pay Day, the Department of Labor’s National Equal Pay Task Force released an “app” to help educate the public about the devastating effects the wage gap has on working families.  The app, which is available at equalpay.challenge.gov, allows you to sift through salary data on your phone and sort by gender, race, and ethnicity.  You can also get information about federal gender discrimination and equal pay laws at the US Equal Opportunity Commission website at www.eeoc.gov.

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