Radio Address: We must act now to close the gender wage gap

Posted: May 03, 2017 | Uncategorized

Hello, this is Senator Cathy Breen from Falmouth. Thanks for tuning in.

Early in my career, I worked to recruit and train women on welfare to get into high-paying jobs with good benefits. I saw firsthand how women could break the cycle of poverty and dependence. I also saw that despite those women’s hard work, perseverance and self-reliance, they still didn’t receive equal pay for equal work.

Thirty years later, the pay gap I saw then still exists today. It’s time we do something about it.

According to data released last month, women in Maine earn just 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. Annually, that’s an average wage gap of $10,093. All told, Maine women who are employed full-time lose nearly $3 billion every single year to the wage gap.

The disparity in pay along gender lines doesn’t just hurt women and their families today. It hurts them, and taxpayers, in the long term.

Women who are paid less than men contribute less to social security and save less over their careers. That means lower retirement incomes and a greater likelihood of poverty and need for public assistance. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I’m always looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars. Shrinking the wage gap in one good way to do that.

The wage gap has real effects on women and their families. And because It exists across industries, within individual occupations and regardless of educational level, it can’t be explained away with excuses about women’s choices.

Income disparity persists for a lot of reasons. Discrimination and bias still play a role, but other factors are less obvious.

I’ve introduced legislation that would address one of the more subtle ways the wage gap follows women throughout their careers. My bill would prohibit companies from asking applicants about their previous wages.

Unfairly low wages can act like an albatross around a woman’s neck. When future salaries are tied to previous earnings, the cycle of inequality is perpetuated. Discriminatory wages follow many women from job to job. So a chance at a fresh start on a level playing field is missed. And the wage gap grows.

Banning the “previous salary question” ensures workers are paid market-based wages commensurate with their education, training, experience, credentials and work ethic — regardless of whether they were underpaid at their previous job.

Equal pay laws at the federal and state level have had some success at closing the wage gap. But the pace of change has been slow. The Maine Legislature should act now to close the wage gap today — not tomorrow, not next month and not next year.

This is Senator Cathy Breen. Thanks for listening.