Thursday, April 14, 2011

Equal Pay Day raises call for equal wages for women

By Colleen O'Connor at the Denver Post

At the annual Equal Pay Day rally held Tuesday on the steps of the state Capitol, lawmakers, government officials, business owners and activists advocated for pay equity.

"It's striking to me that the wage gap has narrowed over the past three to four decades, but there's been no real movement," said Steven Chavez, director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division and a member of the state's Pay Equity Commission.

The wage gap has narrowed by about half a cent each year since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963.

Still, census data show that women who work full time make about 77 cents for every dollar made by men.African-American women make about 62 percent of what the average white man makes. For Latino women, it's about 52 percent.

In Colorado, women working full time earn on average $9,925 less each year than men, according to research released Monday by the National Partnership for Women & Families and the American Association of University Women.

This gap has cost Colorado's families more than $6.7 billion annually, it said.

In a 2010 report, the Colorado Pay Equity Commission estimated parity pay for full-time female workers would generate $3.6 billion to $11.6 billion annually, "which could provide economic stimulus through consumer spending, savings and taxation."

On Tuesday, two members of Congress re-introduced legislation to attempt to close the national wage gap. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced it in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Barbara Mikulsi, D-Md., introduced it in the Senate.

Similar legislation passed the House last year but fell two votes short in a key procedural vote in the Senate.

Critics argue that wage disparities result not from discrimination but from such choices as leaving the workforce to care for children or older parents. They also cite data from the Department of Labor's Time Use survey that shows full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared with 8.75 hours for men.

On the other hand, proponents cite studies from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that show median weekly earnings of women are less than of men in every industry. In 2009, women's average weekly wages were $657 per week compared with $819 for men.

In fields dominated by men, like construction, women's earnings are 91 percent of men's. In fields dominated by women, like health care, women's earnings are 72 percent of men's.

"As a father and a husband, I strongly believe in equal pay for equal work," said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., via e-mail. "I voted to bring this bill to the floor last year, and I look forward to continuing the discussion this year."

Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo.,who co-sponsored the bill last year, argued that equal pay is good for the economy.

"Families are still struggling to make ends meet," he said in a statement. "The last thing people can afford is to be paid less because of who they are."

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