Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

How long must women wait for equal pay?

The United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after winning the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation and the World Cup champion women's team have agreed on a labor contract, settling a dispute in which the players sought equitable wages to their male counterparts. The financial terms and length of the multiyear deal were not disclosed. The agreement was ratified by the players and the federation's board Tuesday.
The United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after winning the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation and the World Cup champion women's team have agreed on a labor contract, settling a dispute in which the players sought equitable wages to their male counterparts. The financial terms and length of the multiyear deal were not disclosed. The agreement was ratified by the players and the federation's board Tuesday. AP File/ 2015

The U.S. women’s soccer and women’s ice hockey teams are making waves with their crusades to get paid more equally. The soccer team started a historic legal fight last year, while the hockey team threatened to boycott the world championships until winning a new contract last week.

Both have a pretty good case; the hockey team’s record stacks up well to the men, while women’s soccer, with three World Cup titles, has won far more than the men’s team. The soccer team reached a new contract Tuesday.

Of course, women have been more successful in a lot of less celebrated workplaces as well. I’ve certainly seen many women with more skills and commitment than male colleagues during my career.

Yet as women rallied on Equal Pay Day this week, the latest study shows how awfully long that road could be.

If earnings for full-time employees continue to change at the same rate as between 1959 and 2015, a woman born today in 13 states would not see equal pay during her working life, says the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And in four states – Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming – pay equity wouldn’t happen until well into the next century.

Women will reach pay parity first in Florida, in 2038, with women in California second, in 2043, according to the study.

Nationally, the gender gap won’t close until 2059, the institute’s study says. Women of color will have to wait even longer – 2124 for black women and 2248 for Latino women.

This is all based on historical trends. So legislators, policymakers and advocates are trying to bend that line so it happens sooner.

California has one of the most ambitious equal pay laws. It took effect in January 2016 and bans employers from paying one gender more for substantially similar work unless they can show other reasons for the pay differential, such as experience, education or quality of production. This Jan. 1, another new law took effect, barring employers from different pay based on past salaries, which advocates said perpetuated unequal pay.

Still, the Legislative Women’s Caucus says its work is not done, not by a long shot.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, is trying again to expand parental leave with Senate Bill 63. It would require smaller businesses, those with 20 to 49 employees, to grant 12 weeks of job-protected leave. The argument is that mothers without enough leave will quit their jobs, which sets them back in their careers and reduces their long-term earnings.

New laws are fine, but it’s pretty obvious by now that they aren’t the entire answer. It will take a cultural change in boardrooms and workplaces. Hopefully, it won’t take 40 more years.

Foon Rhee writes for The Sacramento Bee. Connect with him a frhee@sacbee.com.

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