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Thursday, April 13, 2017 12:07 am

Waging war on gender wage gap

A bill introduced by Rep. Anna Moller, D-Elgin, would require that employees cannot be paid less than what their coworkers make due to their gender. The measure may be beneficial for Illinois financially in the long run. According to an April 2016 study by the McKinsey Global Institute, Illinois can add $60 billion to its economy by 2025 if the wage gap is reduced.

Additionally, the bill forbids an employer from seeking information on the salary of a job candidate from any present or previous employer, including benefits or other compensation or salary history. Dr. Jason Pierceson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, said in an interview that the bill would curtail prevailing gender bias in paying wages. “The idea behind legislation like this is to prevent gender-based wage gaps persisting through the hiring process by new employers using previous salaries as a starting point in the employment process,” Pierceson said. “The old salary could have been a reflection of gender bias. This helps to reduce or eliminate that bias.”

A report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, also released in April 2016, found that for every dollar working men in Illinois make, women earn just 79 cents. Despite the disproportionate figure, the gap is an improvement from 1984, when working women from the state earned 59 cents to every dollar working men made. (See “Are women paid what they’re worth?” by Harold Henderson, April 19, 1984, Illinois Times.) The median annual salary in Illinois for a woman with a full-time, year-round job is $40,898, while a median annual salary for a man with a full-time, year-round job is $51,652. With a gap disparity of $10,754, Illinois ranks 35th in the country.

Because of the wage gap, women who are employed in the state lose nearly $20 billion every year. For women of color, the gap is more disproportionate. According to the report, African-American working women with full-time jobs earn 64 cents for every dollar white non-Hispanic men make, while Latinas just 48 cents. Should things remain the same, the report warned, the pay gap between women and men in the state would not close until 2059.

The measure has gained bipartisan support, as over 50 representatives from both parties have been added as cosponsors for the bill. “Despite many advances with regard to gender equity, women still only earn 79 cents for every dollar that men make,” Moller said on Facebook in February. “Since women have historically been paid less than men, basing their wages off of previous compensation only perpetuates the wage gap, which this legislation would address.”

Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, is one of the bill’s cosponsors. “Obviously, we should have equal pay for equal work,” Williams said in a press release. “It’s 2017. The fact that women in the workplace still, on average, earn 79 cents on the dollar compared to their male colleagues is ridiculous. The significance of this issue has not gone away and it must be a priority until we address it head on,” Williams said. “When people do the same job, they deserve the same pay.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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