The Times, Trenton

Women Earn Less Than Men. It's Wrong, And It Has To Change

The Times of Trenton — March 22, 2018

Times of Trenton Editorial Board

If you live in one of the nearly half-million households in New Jersey headed by a woman, you already know the grim truth: Your chief breadwinner is probably earning less than her male colleagues.

Make that considerably less: On average, women here bring home 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, or about $12,000 less in annual wages.

Not only is the discrepancy unfair, it also puts an economic burden on families, translating into a $450,000 wage gap over the course of a 40-year career.

It's hard to believe, more than four decades into the modern women's movement. But national statistics bear it out.

Women workers in the Garden State fare better than their counterparts in Wyoming, for example (64 cents for every dollar a man earns), but that's small comfort when it comes time to pay the mortgage and buy the groceries.

That's why the state Assembly Labor Committee recently gave its overwhelming support to a bill designed to level the playing field.

"This is more than a women's equal pay bill," says Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "To me, this is a family equal pay bill, because it solidifies and strengthens the family."

The measure, which ultimately heads to the full Assembly, would establish the country's toughest pay equity standards.

Among other things, it bans employers from paying women less for doing "substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility."

Victims, including pregnant women, stand to win six years of back pay with triple damages if the measure succeeds.

Dena Mottola Jabroska, associate director of the non-profit advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action, praised the legislation as a way of "shining the light on companies and their pay practices so they can really take a hard look and make sure they're not discriminating."

One of the bill's most important components is designed to bring transparency into the workplace. It would make it possible for women to openly discuss their wages with colleagues, and to seek legal advice without the fear of retaliation — or termination.

"I had no clue what my pay was relative to the good old boys I was working with, and I knew I was at least as good as they were," recalled Deb Huber, head of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women.

While the New Jersey Business and Industry Association has voiced concern over the prospect of employers shelling out triple damages for successful litigants, the trade group issued a statement supporting the bill's intent, and expressing appreciation for the six-year retroactive period.

The bill was a 12-year labor of love for sponsor Pamela Lampitt (D-Burlington and Camden counties). With its future looking brighter under a governor who has made equal pay for women a top priority, it will prove to be worth fighting for.

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