Women who work full time in Louisiana are paid 65 cents for every dollar paid to men, the largest wage gap in the country, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the National Partnership for Women & Families.
“That’s costing Louisiana women and their families close to $17,000 a year,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president of the partnership, a nonprofit that promotes workforce fairness and health care access.
The lost wages mean families have less money to spend on the goods and services that drive the economy.
Nationally, women are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the report. It’s even worse for women of color. On average, black women are paid 60 cents and Latinas 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
According to the National Partnership, if the wage gap were eliminated, on average a working woman in Louisiana would have enough money for 137 more weeks of food for her family, 14 more months of mortgage and utilities payments, 21 more months of rent or 8,189 additional gallons of gasoline.
The partnership is using the study findings to push Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation the group says would address discriminatory pay practices. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
“Wage gap persists regardless of education, occupation, industry. It’s pernicious, and it is enduring,” Shabo said. “Nationally, the wage gap isn’t expected to close until 2059.”
Shabo said there are other avenues to address the wage gap. Some private companies are undertaking pay audits to make sure women aren’t being systematically underpaid. Some local and state governments have passed their own ordinances and laws.
During the most recent session of the Louisiana Legislature, lawmakers offered at least two bills that would have offered equal pay protections to women. One bill passed in the Senate, with Republicans and Democrats voting for it. But both bills were killed by Republicans on the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and other opponents argued that state and federal laws address the issue, and a Louisiana law would open employers to more lawsuits.
The partnership says 68 percent of U.S. voters favor policies that would address gender discrimination, including the issue of paying women less than men for the same work. Less than 25 percent oppose the proposal.
Support has always been high for equal pay for men and women, Shabo said. Americans understand that there’s no legitimate reason that gender-based discrimination should affect the livelihoods of women and their families.
“I think what we’re seeing now is an increased recognition of the problem and increased outrage and attention to it. And that’s a really welcome step that hopefully will lead to some changes,” Shabo said.
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