Sunday, April 15, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 3

War on Women: equal pay

The war on women is not just about birth control and other health issues, it's about economic ones as well: On the Thursday before Easter, with as little fanfare as possible, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walkalloveryou signed a bill repealing the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act. The law, passed in 2009, allowed victims of workplace pay discrimination to seek damages in state courts, which is easier and less expensive than having to go through federal court.

The Equal Pay law was not just about women; it also offered protection from pay discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors. But it was enacted largely in response to the large pay gap between men and women. At the time the bill was passed, Wisconsin ranked 36th among states in terms of workplace gender pay parity. In the two years after law passed, Wisconsin improved to 24th. True, the law had strict requirements for bringing suit in state court, so rigorous that in those two years, not one equal-pay lawsuit was filed. But the very presence of the law put employers on notice that they had to watch their step.

And that, supposedly, was the problem: According to the law's opponents, even the threat of lawsuits put an intolerable burden on business. Now, it seems to me that the best way to avoid a suit for violating the Equal Pay law is don't violate the Equal Pay law. But the reactionaries can't go with that - because they say the whole concept of pay discrimination is bogus. The repeal bill's chief sponsor - by the way, the same guy who last year proposed a bill labeling single parenthood as a cause of child abuse - says pay discrimination against women doesn't exist. According to him, it's all because women value child-rearing over their careers.

Now, it's true that women taking time off from their careers to have a family explains some of the gap in pay, but by no means all of it. A 2007 study by the American Association of University Women concluded that college-educated women earn only 80% as much as similarly-educated men a year after graduation. They went on to say:
After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children, a 5% difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained.
After 10 years in workforce, that gap, unexplained by anything other than discrimination, had grown to 12%.

This year, April 17 is Equal Pay Day. That date symbolizes how far into 2012 a woman working in 2011 must work in order to earn what a man earned in 2011 alone. Pay discrimination is real, it is serious, and almost every state in the country has a law allowing for redress in state courts. But not Wisconsin. Not any more.

Why is this happening, especially now? I have an opinion: Walkalloveryou is facing a recall election. I think he expects to lose that election and I think the reactionary majority in the legislature also expects him to lose - and they just want to do as much damage as they can before that happens.


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