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My Turn: Relentless focus on paycheck fairness is critical

Posted: November 12, 2012 - 12:00am

Anne Michaud’s article in the October 31st Juneau Empire titled “Focus on pay equity for women misses a host of other important family issues” repeats the same old tired excuses for why women are paid less than men for the same job.

I’ve been studying pay equity for a few years now as an Alaska delegate to Vision2020/Drexel University and a member of the Juneau League of Women Voters. There are hundreds of articles and studies about the pay gap. No matter how you slice and dice the statistics, women get paid less across the board in every civilian occupation and all over the country.

In Alaska, women’s average annual earnings came in at 67 percent of men’s in 2010 (AK. Dept. of Labor). The Juneau Economic Development Council’s 2011 report showed Juneau men earning 42 percent more than women in 2009.

Thanks to Meilani Schijvens, who was the Program Officer at JEDC in 2011, there were several graphs illustrating earnings by gender, and by education and gender. Unfortunately, the 2012 report didn’t include this information.

Last week, I read “The Inescapable Gender Wage Gap” by Bryce Covert in the Oct. 24th issue of Nation Magazine. She starts off by saying, “A new meme has cropped up lately: yeah, sure, maybe there’s a gender wage gap, but it’s really just because ladies make different choices.”

Covert cites research from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that examined data from the U.S. Department of Education. The DOE interviewed 15,000 people to compare earnings of men and women one year out of college.

By analyzing the pay of young (average 23 years old) men and women at the beginning of their careers who have never been married and don’t have kids, hence no “family issues”, you’ve got a solid comparison.

The young women who were business majors earned just over $38,000. The young men who were business majors earned just over $45,000. Female teachers right out of college earned 89 percent of what their male counterparts made.

Women who were managers earned 86 percent of what the men made.

A female salesperson’s paycheck was 77 percent of the guy’s pay working next to her.

Covert writes, “While women reported lower hours overall, the gap reared its ugly head among men and women working the same number of hours.”

There’s a theory that women get paid less because they are poor negotiators and take the first salary offer. Last year, a local team of theater folks and I produced a video called “Be Cool. Negotiate.” and put it up on YouTube. It’s difficult to measure if it has helped a woman get higher starting pay, and it’s not the only one of its kind, but it is out there and could be just the nudge a woman needs.

So, let’s call this whole pay thing what it is. No matter how you slice or dice it, it is illegal, patently unfair, and just plain wrong to pay a woman less than a man for the same job.

• Belknap is a Juneau resident and is a community blogger for juneauempire.com.

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