Pay equity and a higher minimum wage will affect women, families, communities and the nation

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Pay equity and a higher minimum wage will affect women, families, communities and the nation

Hanabusa-AmbergerBy U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Joanna Amberger

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Apr 07, 2014

The recovery of the American middle class begins with good-paying jobs, but that cannot happen if women continue to earn less than they deserve.

The American Association of University Women’s research report, “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap (2013),” reveals that, even 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women in Hawaii on average can expect to be paid only 82 percent of what their male colleagues are paid.

Equal pay isn’t just a women’s issue; it is a family and community issue. Women represent half of the paid workforce, and two-thirds of women are either the primary- or co-breadwinner for their families. Women also make up more than two-thirds of workers earning minimum wage.

In other words, increasing the minimum wage and pay equity present enormous implications not just for women, but also for working families, communities and the nation. In this economic climate, we cannot ignore such a critical issue.

As a member of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa co-sponsored legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10. She also is a co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, to ensure that woman receive what they deserve: equal pay for equal work. Data continually supports the notion that fair pay affects everyone in the family. A recent study conducted by the AFL-CIO and the Institute of Women’s Policy Research found that if married women were paid comparably to men, they would see an almost 6 percent rise in their families’ incomes. That extra income could go a long way for the families of Hawaii.

Equal Pay Day, observed this year on April 8, is the symbolic day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the year before. Because of the wage gap, it takes an extra three months for women to earn the same amount as men earned in 2013. Let’s celebrate this year by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by closing significant loopholes that exist in the law. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to co-workers, and give employers and employees the tools they need to end unequal pay practices.

Another important step in ensuring pay equity is protecting workers’ rights to discuss their pay, and increasing our capacity to track earnings of different demographics over time. President Barack Obama is being urged to sign an executive order banning retaliation against the employees of federal contractors for disclosing or inquiring about their wages.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that nearly half of all U.S. workers are either forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing pay with their colleagues. This often prevents women from knowing that they are being paid less than their male colleagues, and therefore prevents them from being able to challenge discriminatory practices. If the president were to sign this order, more than 20 percent of the U.S. workforce would be able to discuss their salaries without the fear of losing their jobs.

Alarmingly, there is currently no mechanism for federal enforcement agencies to detect widespread wage discrimination, so the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is being urged to quickly finalize and implement its compensation data-collection tool to monitor average starting pay, raises and bonuses, minimum and maximum salaries, number of workers by gender, race, age and ethnicity, and other important data.

We must ensure that our workplace policies truly embody the spirit of aloha by demonstrating that all people are equally valued for their contributions.