BOSTON — Tuesday marks Equal Pay Day. If you’re a woman, you had to work up to this point in 2011 to make up the difference in pay between you and a man who worked the same job in 2010.
According to the White House’s “Women in America” report (PDF) released in March, at all levels of education, women earned about 75 percent as much as their male counterparts in 2009.
While women have made gains in education — even outpacing gains of men over the past 40 years — that has yet to translate into higher salaries. In the past, Massachusetts has passed legislation aimed at closing the pay gap, but Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, and Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, say that law has not done its job. As co-chairs of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, Atkins and Spilka are endorsing additional legislation.
“Massachusetts did pass, years ago, a law stating that employers must pay men and women the same amount for work of like or comparable character or work,” Spilka said. “The problem is, we never defined comparable work.”
Because of this, Spilka says, it is easy for employers to find loopholes in the law.
“To say what’s comparable from one person to another, there’s a lot of discretion there. So, one of the bills [introduced] would further define comparable work.”
While Spilka and Atkins are hopeful, they also know that some of this has to do not only with legislation, but also attitude.
“Well I think sometimes the law has to bring people along but, I think, we passed the law years ago so clearly a law unto itself doesn’t make it,” Spilka said.
“Look at the Wal-Mart case, for example, that Wal-Mart employees are prohibited from telling each other what they make for a salary. Any organization that does that is suspect in my mind,” Atkins said. “They still are using this archetypical, ancient standard of, well, a man has to support a family whereas a women does not. Which is not true anymore… Women are paying just as much for their education, their housing and everything else.”
In 1963, when The Equal Pay Act was passed, the wage difference between men and women was over 50 percent. While Spilka notes that strides have been made, those gains are not as much as it might seem.
“Now, that sounds like a big jump but when you think about the number of years involved, it’s not even half a cent per-year increase,” Spilka said.