When so many women of my generation believe we live in a post-feminist world, the prevalence of sex-based wage discrimination in the United States sounds like an absurdity.

Today, Equal Pay Day, serves as an important reminder that the widespread belief that gender discrimination in the modern workplace is nonexistent is far from the truth.

Almost 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women still make only 77 cents on average for every dollar earned by a man. The figures are even more dismal for women of color – in 2010, African American women only earned approximately 62 cents and Latinas only 54 cents for each dollar earned by a white man.

This year, Equal Pay Day also falls on tax day. The cruel irony of this coincidence is that, while women and men are certainly equal in their responsibility to pay taxes, they are not receiving equal pay for equal work.

The injustices of sex-based wage discrimination are compounded when taking into account that 40% of women are now acting as the primary breadwinners in their households.

Major obstacles still stand in the way of women achieving equal pay for equal work. Women often can’t even discover if they are being paid less than their male co-workers since many employers have rules that punish employees for voluntarily sharing wage information with their colleagues.

While federal legislation is needed to protect employees in all workplaces, the Michigan Legislature has the power to bring legislative solutions to Michigan women and families.

Bills have been introduced this legislative session that, if passed, will shine a light on sex-based wage discrimination and lift some of the barriers blocking women from obtaining equal pay:

  • House Bill 4611, by Rep. Joan Bauer strengthens the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to make it clear that sex-based wage discrimination is illegal under Michigan law,
  • House Bill 4612, by Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright and Senate Bill 343 by Sen. Coleman Young would increase penalties for wage discrimination based on gender,
  • House Bill 4613, by Rep. Dian Slavens and Senate Bill 341 by Sen. Gretchen Whitmer would establish a pay equity study commission,
  • and House Bill 4614, by Rep. Lisa Brown and Senate Bill 342 by Sen. Rebekah Warren would allow employees to learn what their co-workers earn so they can know if they are receiving equal pay.

The working families of our state are suffering in this tough economic climate. These families need the kind of concrete, immediate action that will come from passage of these bills. Ending the wage gap is critical, not only to families’ economic security, but also to the state’s economic recovery.

I urge you to take a stand for Michigan women and families on this Equal Pay Day by telling your state legislators that it is time to support this necessary legislation.

By Merissa Kovach, Field Organizer

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