Here’s hoping that candidates for prez talk about fair pay

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As presidential hopefuls try to woo voters with a mix of forced folksiness, semi-concealed vitriol and chiseled talking points, here’s hoping that the issue of fair pay is in the spotlight.

Men and women with comparable skills and experience who do the same job should get the same pay. That proposition seems obvious, but research signals that there’s still an illegitimate pay gap between sexes in the U.S.

One (very) rough estimate of that gap, based on U.S. Labor Department data, shows that full-time women workers make about 81.6 cents for each dollar men make. A couple of major factors contribute to the gap:

–Women make up the majority of the country’s largest low-paying occupations, such as child care workers and home health aides.

–Women are more likely than men to leave the labor force for some period of time to act as a family caregiver, whether for a child or an older relative, giving up some career experience.

Once researchers take such factors into account they find a narrower pay gap.

But here’s a disturbing trend: The pay gap is also evident early in workers’ careers, before the needs of kids and aging parents typically come into play. For example, a study by economists with Harvard and the University of Chicago found that at just one year after MBA graduation, median earnings for women were 83% of men’s.

There’s a similar gap among those with no more than a high school degree. These women earn about 86 cents for each dollar earned by men with comparable education, after adjusting for factors such as age, full-time versus part-time status, industry, and occupation, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office, investigators for Congress.

It’s taboo in the U.S. for workers to speak openly with each other about earnings, so it’s hard to pin down when employers hand out unfair wages. This silence creates urgency for leaders to loudly address the importance of fair pay.

In a speech last week in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton spoke about equal pay. She isn’t every Democrat’s cup of tea (and many Republicans seem to have a visceral negative reaction to her), but she made an important point when she said that equal pay isn’t just a woman’s issue. Rather, whole families are affected when employers unfairly treat women workers:

“The truth is that when any parent is shortchanged, the entire family is shortchanged…We should promote pay transparency across our economy to ensure women have the information they need to negotiate fairly.”

She also spoke about the need for paid leave, getting more women into higher paying occupations and enabling working parents to have flexible schedules. These are topics to be visited in future Woman’s Work posts.

Hopefully, Clinton’s speech won’t be the last time a major candidate addresses equal pay. It would be great to hear some Republican ideas about how to cut sex-based wage inequality.

–Ruth

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