Economic discrimination against women

Jenny (
Sat, 27 Feb 1999 11:55:19 -0800 (PST)

Union Links Women's Pay to Poverty Among Families
Thursday, February 25, 1999


  The average working woman's family would earn $4,205 more per year if women
were paid as much as men with comparable job qualifications, according to a
study released Wednesday by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women's Policy

  On average, the study found, full-time working women earn just under three-
quarters of what full-time working men are paid, meaning that altogether,
working women's families lose $200 billion of income to the wage gap each
year. The AFL-CIO report said that if equal pay was enforced by states, the
poverty rate among married women would fall to 0.8 percent from 2.1 percent,
and the poverty rate among single working mothers would be cut to 12.6 percent
from 25.3 percent. 

  Closing the wage gap between men and women is a legislative priority for the
AFL-CIO this year, and the federation is planning to sponsor new equal pay
legislation in 24 states over the next month. 

  "This is a big, brand-new campaign, with a lot of momentum behind it," said
Karen Nussbaum, director of the Working Women's Department at the federation.
"Even though we have an Equal Pay Act making it illegal to pay women less than
men in the same job, it isn't adequately enforced, and most women are not
covered, because they're in female-dominated jobs, so there's no man around to
compare themselves with. These new bills would strengthen enforcement and
expand the notion of equal pay to work of equal value." 

  But closing the gap is not a simple matter. For decades, the Equal Pay Act
of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have prohibited workplace
discrimination and pay discrimination against women, but the wage gap, which
had been narrowing throughout the 1980s, has widened slightly since 1993. And
it remains true that the higher the concentration of women in an occupation,
the lower the wage it commands. 

  The legislation the AFL-CIO will seek, like most recent efforts to address
the problem, is based on the idea of comparable worth, the concept that pay
scales should be re-evaluated so that jobs traditionally filled by women pay
as much as men's jobs requiring comparable skills, effort, responsibility and
working conditions. For example, a social worker earning $35,000 might be
found comparable to a probation officer paid $55,000. 

  Many Democrats have long backed the idea of comparable worth. In Congress,
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who began proposing a Federal Fair Pay Act based on
comparable worth in 1996, is continuing his effort. But Republicans generally
oppose such legislation, seeing it as an unwieldy manipulation of the free
market, and no Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor for the legislation.