Leaders said efforts to close the wage gap between men and women won’t advance without acknowledgment that gender-based pay rates are a form of discrimination.
By Matt Skoufalos
Despite the issue having been well-documented since the 1970s, it may take federal legislation to close the gap between men’s and women’s earnings, argued local leaders on Wednesday.
Fresh on the heels of his recent federal push to raise the minimum wage, U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross (D – NJ) and advocates from the South Jersey business and political communities sought to frame gender-based wage inequality as much as an issue of civil liberties as one of economic justice.
“It’s something that is as wrong as anything we’ve dealt with,” the congressman said. “Nobody’s disputing the numbers; that’s the remarkable thing.”
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), working women in New Jersey aged 16 and older earn just 80 percent of the wages of their male counterparts ($48,943 versus $60,870, respectively). Women, who disproportionately comprise two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers, also face an uphill battle in dealing with childcare issues.
“Employers are less likely to hire mothers as compared with childless women, and when employers do make an offer to a mother, they offer her a lower salary than they do other women,” whereas “many fathers actually receive a wage premium after having a child,” the AAUW noted. In 2014, 70 percent of all women in the workforce were mother to a child younger than 18.
The impact of such wage differentials are felt more severely along ethnic lines as well: for every dollar earned by a man, a woman only earns 79¢ in a comparable position. Black women earn 60¢ of that same dollar, and Latinas just 55¢.
The federal Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to demonstrate that differences in wages are established on job-related, “bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience” that are “consistent with business necessity” and which account for “the entire differential in compensation at issue.”
The bona fide defense does not apply if employees can prove that “an alternative employment practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing such differential, and [that]the employer has refused to adopt such alternative practice.” The measure also outlaws retaliation for complaints or discussions about wage inequity, even in comparing salaries with other employees, and establishes legal grounds for civil suits about wage discrimination.
“This is a time to elevate this discussion,” Norcross said. “This is an ongoing issue between now and Election Day. These are very real decisions that you’re going to be able to make when you walk into the polling place.”
‘We can all work together to move this issue’
Ginny Marino, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey, which hosted the conference, said that the success of her organization “is predicated upon the notion that women and girls have an equal shot to be successful in our economy.”
Without policies to close the wage gap, “we will lose another generation of girls to economic disparity,” Marino said.
New Jersey Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D, 6th District) described income inequality as an issue that, once remedied, can help improve the economic conditions of a majority of families in the state.
“Two-thirds of New Jersey households are run by women,” Lampitt said. “It’s one issue. We can all work together to move it.”
Lampitt said that the state assembly has been working on a quartet of measures to create wage transparency, outlaw workplace retaliation for complaints of wage inequality, and get state government out of business with companies that do not provide equal pay for women.
“Part of it has to do with people not knowing that paycheck inequality is discrimination,” Lampitt said. “There are only a few actual jobs out there where women are guaranteed that they will be paid the same as a man. My daughter’s a lawyer; my son’s a nurse. When young men are going into this field, they’re sometimes being paid more than women in this field. So we need to understand where the inequities are happening.”
In November 2015, the federal Paycheck Fairness Act was referred to the Congressional Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, which is where it was last discussed.