By Kate Symmonds, Co-VP of Legislation
Over half a century has passed since President Kennedy signed the original Equal Pay Act of 1963 into law. However, 55 years later, women still earn only 80 cents to every dollar earned by men – and the numbers are far worse for women minorities. In the past decade the pay gap has stalled, making virtually no progress. It is estimated that if we continue at the same slow rate of improvement since 2001, we will not reach pay equity until 2119 – 101 years from now.
This is an issue that impacts not just women and minorities, but society at large. The lost wages caused by the pay gap impact entire families and generations of children: 42 percent of mothers in the U.S. are their families’ primary breadwinners. Further, while the problem is bad enough with White women earning just 79 cents on the dollar, Black women earn just 63 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women earn just 54 cents on the dollar. Pay gaps disproportionately impact women of color, perpetuating inequalities of opportunity for our country’s minorities.
Today Mass NOW joins the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum in observing Asian American Equal Pay Day. Part of the mission of the Asian American Equal Pay Day is to recognize that women of color and gender non-conforming people suffer disproportionately large pay gaps, and should be included in research, advocacy, and policy efforts to close the gap. Specifically, Asian Americans suffer from the “model minority” myth that all Asian Americans are wealthy professionals and don’t suffer from discrimination the way other minorities do.
Statistics show that Asian American women suffer the smallest wage gap, even smaller than White women, earning 87 cents on the dollar. However, the “model minority” myth and aggregated data hides the fact that when you disaggregate Asian American communities, you discover that some experience the worst pay gaps in the county. For example, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander women experience pay gaps as low as 38 to 53 cents on the dollar. Further, the LGBT community also suffers from wage discrimination and should be included in the discussion. Specifically, without legal protections against workplace discrimination, transgender people suffer some of the worst discrimination and lowest wages. The pay gap affects all of us, and if we’re to move toward a real solution, we need to include all impacted communities in the conversation.
Here at Mass NOW, Equal Pay is an issue near and dear to our hearts. In 2016 Mass NOW and its coalition partners helped pass the “Act to Establish Pay Equity” in Massachusetts. This law will go into effect on July 1, 2018, and when it does, Massachusetts will have one of the strongest equal pay laws in the country.
The Act to Establish Pay Equity will make it illegal for an employer to pay employees at a lower rate for comparable work done by an employee of a different gender, and it expands the definition of “comparable work” to prevent employers from taking advantage of loop holes. The law also requires employers to allow employees to discuss their salaries with each other, eliminating the secrecy that reinforces pay gaps. It also makes it illegal for employers to ask job candidates about their prior wages, a practice that traps low-wage workers in low paying jobs. The law also creates a private right of action, allowing employees who have faced wage discrimination to more easily sue the offending employer in civil court. This law gives employers the tools to eliminate the pay gap, and it empowers employees to assert their right to equal pay.
Despite some movement in the right direction, we still have a long way to go before we reach pay equity. You can help by enforcing your own rights, keeping the conversation moving, and advocating for state and federal laws (such as the Pay Check Fairness Act). If you want to discuss ways you can become involved in Mass NOW’s advocacy efforts on this and other issues, please contact our VPs of Legislation at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.