California women now have a better chance at equal pay. Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law that both allows employees to freely discuss pay in the workplace and broadens existing pay discrimination laws to cover “substantially similar work.”
Too many employers across the nation hide behind pay secrecy policies and play games with job titles to justify paying women less than men. Now – at least in California – women will have access to information, and employers will have to show job-related differences in qualifications and legitimate business reasons to justify pay differentials.
A similar bill in Washington, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, passed the House earlier this year with bipartisan support, but died quickly in the Republican-controlled Senate.
According to the latest American Community Survey data, women in Washington state who worked full-time in 2014 made 77% of the typical man’s wages – a loss of more than $12,000 annually for family incomes. White women made 74% of a white man’s pay, Black and Native American women 58%, and Latina and Pacific Island women less than half. Even women with graduate or professional degrees made only 65% of their male counterparts’ salaries.
Median 2014 Earnings for Full-Time, Year-Round Workers in Washington
In addition to their stronger position on fair pay, California women – and men – have long enjoyed other advantages over most of the nation’s workers. California is one of only three U.S. states to guarantee paid maternity and paternity leave. Not surprisingly, they also have better social, economic and health outcomes. New moms and babies are healthier, dads are more involved with their young children, and fewer new parents are forced onto public assistance than in other states. And women are also more likely to be employed and at higher wages a year following childbirth.
California’s family and disability leave insurance program also provides paid leave to care for an elderly parent or other seriously ill family member, or when a worker is too ill or injured to work for an extended period.
Loss of earnings due to pay discrimination and lack of paid leave means more children grow up in financially insecure households and struggle with school, and women are more likely to face economic hardship in retirement.
California women enjoy higher pay and a smaller gender wage gap than women in Washington. In 2016, our legislature should prioritize a women’s economic agenda that includes equal pay and family and medical leave insurance, along with paid sick and safe days for more routine health needs. It’s good for women, families, local communities, and our whole economy.