States Won't Wait for Equal Pay

February 7, 2018

As part of SiX’s 2018 #FightingForFamilies Week of Action, Kim Churchesthe Chief Executive Officer of the American Association of University Women wrote a guest blog about the importance of fighting for equal pay for all women coast-to-coast.

By Kim Churches  

Women and families are hurt by the gender pay gap. Taking home 13 percent, 20 percent, 37 percent, 41 percent, 43 percent, or 46 percent less than a colleague because of the compounded effect of race on the gender pay gap is unacceptable. The pay gap also presents an especially difficult challenge to mothers: At a time when more women than ever are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in their households, the motherhood penalty presents a significant challenge to mothers’ ability to provide for their families. And with women holding nearly two-thirds of the country’s $1.3 trillion of student debt they can’t afford to be hindered by the pay gap when paying off their often crushing debt.   

But there’s hope on the horizon. During the Fighting for Families Week of Action, it’s as clear as ever that fighting for equal pay stands to benefit all working families, and state legislators are taking on that fight in response to the women and families who are raising their voices about the need for equal pay. In 2015 and 2016 dozens of legislatures proposed and enacted bills and laws addressing pay inequality, and in 2017 a whopping 42 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., offered legislative solutions to the gender pay gap. Though not all of these bills passed, this growing activity indicates that red, blue, and purple states realize that the pay gap is real and that they need to take action to close it now.  

Now, in the early days of 2018 state legislative sessions, 32 states have already introduced bills to combat the gender pay gap. These bills are sponsored by a diverse set of members on both sides of the aisle. While it’s disappointing that Congress continually fails to take action at the federal level, states are taking up the mantle and forging new paths toward equity.   

Women everywhere are refusing to accept unequal pay. That’s why the American Association of University Women (AAUW)  is working to close the pay gap using multi-pronged solutions that include in-depth research, salary negotiation workshops, and advocacy for strong equal pay laws at the federal, state, and local levels. Such seminal research as AAUW’s The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap and Graduating to a Pay Gap give advocates the facts they need to explain this pervasive problem and its impact. AAUW Work Smart salary negotiation workshops, which have trained more than 30,000 women, help individuals secure the salary and benefits they deserve. With partnerships in five cities across the nation to date (as well as the recent addition of Massachusetts!) and rapid scaling of the program under way, AAUW aims to train millions more women nationwide by 2020.  Additionally,  AAUW’s devoted advocates are proud to partner with elected representatives who are committed to making unequal pay a thing of the past through the passage and implementation of strong legislative solutions.

AAUW advocates and legislative trailblazers in states including California, Massachusetts, and Oregon should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished over the last few years as they work to close the gender pay gap. But I want to laud the hard work that is taking place across the country to close the gender pay gap not just on the coasts but also in America’s heartland. The drive toward equal pay is a nationwide phenomenon occurring at both state and city levels.

In recent years such states as Illinois, Nevada, Nebraska, and Utah and cities like Pittsburgh and New Orleans all enacted provisions designed to bring greater equity to our workplaces. Recognizing equal pay is not a partisan issue but a practical one, activists and legislators alike also laid the groundwork to bring change to such red, blue and purple states as Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, and Virginia in 2018 and beyond.   

Women and advocates for equity are ready not only to continue the success we had around equal pay in years prior but also to expand that success from coast to coast, and north to south. Get ready for equal pay in every state through the right policies and programs for systemic change.  

Kim Churches is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Association of University Women.   

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