Last Tuesday, July 21, 2015, I joined hundreds of others in the Massachusetts State House to show my support for An Act to Establish Pay Equity, the latest attempt by legislators and activists to achieve equal pay in the Commonwealth. After the press conference, Attorney General Maura Healey tweeted a picture with a little girl who had been in the crowd with the caption, “This is Victoria. Isn’t she worth it? #MAEqualPay.” This tweet inspired many others across Massachusetts to tweet pictures of their own daughters asking the same question with the hashtag #ShesWorthIt. We are all worth it, so why is our work valued less?
At the State House I learned about state politics, bureaucracy, and the power of women; so, I have decided to round up the most noteworthy facts and bits of information about equal pay in Massachusetts that I think everyone should know.
1. Equal Pay has been law in Massachusetts for a long time
In 1945, Massachusetts became the first state to pass legislation requiring equal pay for equal work. The original statute concerned men and women teachers receiving equal pay, but it eventually expanded to all workers. Women across the country had to wait eighteen more years before equal pay became federal law under the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Last Tuesday during a press conference before the hearing for an Act to Establish Pay Equity, State Treasurer Deb Goldberg bluntly stated, “The Equal Pay Act simply has not worked.” In the seventy years since equal pay first became law in Massachusetts, we have made significant progress, but women are still not paid as much as their male counterparts. In fact…
2. Women in Massachusetts make 82¢ for every $1 men make
Women who work full time earn approximately 80.8% of what men who work full time earn, and lose a combined total of approximately $12,239,814,352 annually due to the wage gap. This number accounts for the average of all women compared to all men, but when you compare Black women to all men, they make an average of 62¢ for every man’s dollar, and for Latina women the number is 54¢.
3.The definition of comparable work has not always been consistent.
The Massachusetts Equal Pay bill works to target practices that can indirectly sustain the wage gap, such as the loose language by which we define comparable work. Due to a number of factors such cultural norms and historical oppression, women’s work is often valued below men’s work even when the work is similar. An example of this is the difference between what a janitor gets paid versus what a maid gets paid. They are both performing the same type of labor with similar hours and conditions, but janitors are often paid significantly more. This new bill clarifies the current comparable work standard by defining comparable jobs based solely on comparable skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. The bill also goes on to state that compensation includes not only wages but also benefits and other compensations.
4. At the current rate, we won’t reach wage equality until 2058
Based on data collected by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if we do not act on this issue, then the wage gap will take forty-three years to close on its own, meaning it will be even longer for the gap to close between women of color and men. With no change, a girl born today will be forty-three by the time she makes as much as her male counterpart. As a twenty year-old woman looking towards a future career, no action could mean that I would not be paid equally within my working life.
5. Single mothers head 1 in 4 of Massachusetts’s households with children under 18
As a society, we are slowly moving away from having a singular static definition of a family, but we still have a ways to go before it is easy to be a single mother. With 25% of households with children headed by single mothers, pay inequality very directly affects a quarter of our children. One line that was repeated throughout the press conference and hearing on pay equity was “this is not just a women’s issue, it’s a family issue,” or “this is not just a women’s issue, it’s an economic issue,” and even “this is not just a women’s issue, this is a business issue.” While these statements are all true, I wish that we could see that any issue that affects women also affects any of these issues.
A Call to Action
After a whole day of listening to statistics about how far we have to go, it is easy to be disheartened. However, there are steps that everyone can take to get closer to achieving equal pay for comparable work. The easiest way to directly have an impact in the success of this bill is to contact your state legislators and let them know that this bill is important to you. The bill has significant support in both the senate and the house, but it is crucial to be persistent in expressing the necessity of this legislation until it becomes law in Massachusetts.
To learn more about these issues and the legislation please browse the following:
“Single-mother families struggling in Mass.” Katie Johnston, Boston Globe
Crittenton Women’s Union
Institute for Women’s Policy Research