On Equal Pay Day, Connecticut women still short-changed

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Today is the national observance of Equal Pay Day, a date that marks how far into the new year a woman must work to earn as much as a man earned in the previous year.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, Connecticut women are paid approximately 78 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

Our state’s leaders are increasingly recognizing this as not just a “women’s issue,” but rather an economic issue that impacts the growing number of households containing breadwinning mothers.  In fact, if the wage gap disappeared, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income, representing 2.9 percent of our country’s GDP in 2012, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

As a member of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Gender Wage Gap Task Force in 2013, we explored the complexities of this disparity: known factors like education level and years of experience vs. unknown factors such as unconscious bias, and slower career advancement.

Sadly, discussions about pay inequality almost always involve a hint of “victim blaming.”  She ‘opted out’ to raise kids.  She didn’t negotiate as well as a male colleague did for a raise.  She picked a pink collar job like home care aide or social worker.  But what about the role of business and government?

In recent weeks, the CT General Assembly demonstrated an appetite to address the wage gap when the Labor and Public Employees Committee voted to advance the governor’s proposed bill to prohibit pay secrecy practices by employers.  While this bill allowing frank discussions between coworkers is a good step in the right direction, what other steps will help to close the wage gap before the estimated date of 2058?

Caregiving responsibilities disproportionately fall on the shoulders of women.  When a woman takes time away from work for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for an ill family member or aging parent, her family benefits but her earnings suffer in the short and long term.

One answer is paid family and medical leave.  A benefit offered in every industrialized country, the U.S. is far behind the rest of the world in supporting workers.  Paid family leave allows employees the chance to attend to major life events like caring for a father with cancer or the birth of a new baby without losing one’s weekly paycheck. The Family and Medical Leave Act was groundbreaking in the early 1990s but has not kept up with the needs of modern families.  Many employees are not covered by the law, and even those who are covered simply cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

The economic advantages of paid leave are clear; new mothers with paid family leave are 54 percent more likely to experience an increase in wages the year following birth, according to the Rutgers Center for Women and Work.

Supporting female workers, however, is only half the answer.  Men who take paid leave early in a child’s life are more likely to assume a larger role in childrearing throughout the lifespan of the child.  Paid leave for fathers also impacts mothers’ earnings directly.  The Swedish Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation found that each additional month of parental leave for fathers boosted mothers’ wages by almost 7 percent.

According to AARP, women in their 40s and 50s are most likely to shoulder the responsibility for elder care, as well.  The vast majority of these women are still in the workforce.

Acknowledging men as instrumental in caregiving would level the playing field and help women achieve greater participation in the workforce, including new assignments, promotions, and bonuses.  If men and women equally seek time for family responsibilities, we are poised to experience a cultural shift in gender expectations both at home and in the workplace.

The Connecticut General Assembly made headlines in March when the Labor and Public Employees Committee voted to advance a comprehensive paid family and medical leave bill for the first time.  Connecticut has the opportunity to lead on policies that truly support workers, both women and men, in balancing the real-time responsibilities of both work and family, while helping to close the wage gap for women.

Catherine Bailey is the legal and public policy director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, and serves as the chair of the CT Campaign for Paid Family Leave.

Sources:

National Partnership for Women and Families, “Connecticut Women and the Wage Gap,” April 2014;

Hartman, Hayes and Clark, “How Equal Pay for Working Women Would Reduce Poverty and Grow the American Econony,” Institute for Women’s Policy Research Briefing Paper, January 2014

Report to the Governor (Malloy), The Wage Gap in Connecticut: Findings and Recommendations,” Gender Wage Gap Task Force,  November 17, 2013,

Governor’s House Bill No. 6850, An Act Concerning Pay Equity and Fairness, File No. 372;

Sneed, Tierney, “Paid Family Leave is Primed for a National Debate,” U.S. News and World Report, March 23, 2015.

Houser, Linda and Vartanian, Thomas P., “Pay Matters: The Positive Economic Impacts of Paid Family Leave for Families, Businesses, and the Public,” Rutgers Center for Women and Work, January 2012.

Johansson, Elly-Ann, “The Effect of Own and Spousal Parental Leave on Earnings,” IFAU – Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation, Working Paper 2010:4, March 22, 2010.

Feinberg, Lynn, “Keeping Up with the Times: Supporting Family Caregivers with Workplace Policies,” AARP Public Policy Institute, Insight on the Issues 82, June 2013.

House Bill No. 6932, An Act Concerning Paid Family Medical Leave, File No. 385;

 

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