State Senate to vote on bill aimed at shrinking wage gap on Equal Pay Day

Louisiana ranks dead last in the country with the largest gender wage gap among states and Washington D.C. The first step in helping close that gap comes Tuesday with a full Senate vote on a bill that would require the state’s employers to pay equally for the same jobs.

That vote comes, coincidentally, on National Equal Pay Day.

The American Association of University Women has scheduled a full-day of events designed to draw attention to the issue, with participants lobbying senators before the vote and listening to speeches by Gov. John Bel Edwards and deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor Chris Lu Tuesday morning in the fourth floor press room of the state capitol.

Up for vote is Senate Bill 254 by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, which would require employers to pay men and women equally for the same work, prevent employers from keeping salary and other compensation secret from employees, and allow an employee to sue if an employer refuses to pay equal wages. Louisiana has an equal pay law, but it is only for public workers.

“This is wonderful to be coordinated at the exact same time we’re having our lobby day,” said Camille Moran, a coalition lobbying director for the American Association of University Women who spoke to the Baton Rouge Press Club today along with Julie Schwam-Harris about Equal Pay Day.

Schwam-Harris said the organization is hopeful that the bill will pass the Senate, since a similar one passed last year before dying in the House.

The two also discussed specifics about Louisiana’s gender wage gap and how the bills in the legislature would help to close that gap.

Schwam-Harris said women working in Louisiana earn 65 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, echoing data released in late March by the U.S. Census Bureau. That is worse than the other 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The average woman loses about $17,000 annually because of the wage disparity. That adds up to more than $670,000 lost over 40 years of working, Schwam-Harris said.

“Women live longer than men, that means they’re going to spend more time in poverty,” she added.

The gap persists across all boundaries. Men who have not finished high school earn more on average than women who have a high school diploma, Schwam-Harris said. Women must earn a bachelor’s degree to earn more, on average, than men with just a high-school diploma.

“We know that this is a problem,” she said.

In a letter to members of the Louisiana Legislature dated April 8, Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, said the organization supports SB 254 and its House counterpart, HB 397 by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans.

“At a time when more families than ever before are relying on women’s income and women are the primary breadwinners in more than 40 percent of families with children, closing the wage gap means more economic security for families,” Dorfman said.

—Ryan Broussard

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