Government and Human Resources

Debate focused on ways to close womens wage gap

August 31, 2012
| By Wei Yu |
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LANSING — Wages for Michigan women remain much lower than for men, the American Community Survey for Equal Pay shows. The state ranks 42nd nationally in its gender-based wage gap.

According to the survey, women in Michigan earn 74 cents of every dollar earned by men, less than the national average of 77 cents.

The wage disparity has not only stalled — it has widened, according to the American Association of University Women.

Bills pending in the legislature would help eliminate the disparity, advocates say.

“There are many members in the state Senate and House who don’t believe the equal pay issue is real or don’t think it is their job to do something about it. So it’s our job to convince them they are wrong,” said Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor.

Warren is the primary sponsor of a bill to require employers to provide wage information on “similarly situated employees.”

“Because many women are newer to some jobs, especially those higher-paying jobs, they don’t know what salaries are the right salaries to ask for,” she said.

“One piece of the puzzle I’m working on this year is to allow employees to learn what their co-workers earn so they can know if they are receiving equal pay,” Warren said

Janet Watkins, president-elect of the American Association of University Women of Michigan, said there is a lack of understanding about the impact of the pay gap.

“We need to get the legislation passed,” Watkins said. “The Paycheck Fairness Act at the federal level is a key piece of legislation because it puts teeth in enforcement into the current law around pay equality. At the state level, there is a package of legislation that we need to pass.”

“I would like to hope that in the next five years, women will be paid the same wage as their male counterparts. It’s going to take more time to push and continue to challenge our legislature to do that for us,” she said.

Ann Parker, chief operating officer of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said the organization’s general position on equal pay is to let market forces determine fair pay rates, not the government.

“If a pay gap does exist, there is no one remedy for all small businesses,” Parker said. “There are reasons that pay structures may differ by industry type: geography, education levels, unique skills a candidate brings to a job and other market forces.”

She said the association would encourage small business owners to use salary survey data for their industry to get a sense of what a competitive salary is for their market.

According to Parker, employers comply with the federal equal pay and civil rights laws to ensure equal pay for equal work and eliminate discrimination against women.

“With those guiding federal laws and similar state laws in place, we should let market forces and principles of supply and demand do the rest,” she said. “Employers pay what they must to attract qualified workers needed to get the job done.”

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