State House Memo: Pay equity isn’t exclusively women’s issue
Five decades have passed since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in the hopes of ending the “unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job.” Unfortunately, the practice still exists in the United States. In 2012, women earned only 77 cents compared to every dollar earned by men. In New Hampshire, the yearly earnings gap between a full time working man and woman is $12,012. That means less money to feed her family, less money to put towards starting a business, and less money to save for retirement.
Opponents of Senate Bill 207 argue it is not gender discrimination that causes women to earn less money than their male counterparts, but the choices that women make. If that’s the case, then why will a woman working the same job as a man with similar education levels and experience earn less?
Time and time again, studies using data from the census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics have shown this to be the case, regardless of whether the occupations are predominantly made up of men, women, or an equal mix of both. This is true whether the job title is “retail salesperson” where women earn about three quarters of their male peers or “registered nurse” where women are paid less than 90 percent of what their male counterparts take home. Even for CEOs – a level still heavily male dominated – women who do ascend to the top take home 18 percent less than men.
When it comes to education, women need to earn at least one more degree to earn as much as men.
That means a woman with a bachelor’s degree is paid on par with a man with a high school diploma, despite the significant investment in her education.
The wage gap grows as women age. A year after graduation, college educated women earn 5 percent less than their male classmates, but after 10 years women earn 12 percent less. On average, women between 25 and 29 face an annual wage gap of $1,702, growing to more than $14,000 annually over the course of their career.
Over a 40 year career, the average working woman will be shorted over $400,000. To make up that difference she would have to work an extra 12 to 18 years. When it comes time to retire, women’s lower wages hurt them again, reducing their Social Security benefits by $4,000 annually.
This is not just about women. This impacts families, children, elderly seniors, women and men. Women are the primary or co-breadwinner in more than half of families. Many married couples relied exclusively on women’s earnings in 2012 and many more relied on both men’s and women’s earnings.
Equally qualified women should be compensated the same as men doing the same job. If they are not, women should have the tools necessary to seek justice for paycheck inequity.
Senate Bill 207 removes the ability of employers to fire a worker for sharing information about their own pay and provides women with a reasonable time limit for action upon learning they were paid differently than their male peers.
New Hampshire needs to act now. Without our action, it’s not just women in our state who will suffer, but the families and children they support. We’ve made tremendous progress on a number of fronts towards equality. SB 207 is the right next step for the Granite State.
(Rep. Terie Norelli of Portsmouth is speaker of the New Hampshire House.)