Opinion: In Defense of Pay Equity

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If past salary history becomes the baseline for a current offer, pay inequality gets passed on.

Today’s generation, with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, shares quite a lot of information. I say this, because I was raised in a generation where you were taught to be careful what information you shared because it might be used against you. That idea—meaning that information will be used against you—seems to be the case when it comes to issues like pay and salary.

That’s why I hope that, whoever the new governor happens to be, he or she might reconsider signing Assembly Bill 3480 (Senate version S-2536), which would prohibit employers from asking about or using an applicant’s pay history to determine salary during the hiring process. This bill came before our current Governor back in July and he vetoed it.

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You might ask why this is important and that is a fair question; for an answer you need look no further than the fact that women in New Jersey earn roughly 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. If you throw race and ethnicity into that mix, Hispanic women earn approximately 45 cents for every dollar a white male makes and for African-American women, the rate is roughly 60 cents to every dollar.

On a fundamental level, such systemic inequality runs against our sense of what is fair and right as Americans because, qualifications and skills being pretty much the same, people regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity should be paid roughly the same but that doesn’t happen if the yardstick becomes past pay.

If the applicant’s past salary history becomes the baseline for a current offer, a history that saw the applicant earn anywhere from 20 to 30 cents less than their male counterparts, then a prospective employer will be making an offer with inequality already baked into the cake and that’s how pay inequality becomes systemic and passed on through many generations. 

In such cases, offers will not genuinely reflect the position itself nor will it reflect work experience, education, etc., but it will merely reflect the bias or prejudice of past employers at best and at worst, it will reflect the bias of previous generations where society believed that men were the breadwinners and women stayed home and cooked and kept house. We all know that ship sailed a long time ago.

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More than that, we live in a day when the majority of single parent households nationwide (about 83 percent) are headed by women and in New Jersey, 77 percent of single-parent households are headed by women. So pay inequality, no matter how it’s perpetuated, is impacting countless numbers of children and this will have a profound impact on our state, not to mention the nation, for generations to come.

There might be an argument to be made by some, that knowing the pay history is only for the most benevolent of reasons but I’m not buying. The love of money or profits, is the root of all evil and in this case, knowing the past salary history is a way to peg an offer to a past that’s always had women earning less than their male counterparts for the same jobs.

The same case can be made for younger workers, older workers re-entering the workforce and after the 2009 recession, everyone who attempted to scratch out a living in the gig economy. That’s why a number of states and cities including, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC, along with New Orleans and San Francisco have passed or are considering passing such legislation banning employers from requiring applicants to provide past salary history. 

Critics also contend that having such information allows employers to gather information about competitive wages in their corner of the labor market. That might be true, but there are other ways to obtain data within any given industry or market without requiring applicants to reveal this information if they choose not to do so.

This is an important issue for women in New Jersey, but it’s also an important issue for families in general. Previously, I mentioned single-parent households run by women and the impact to that type family structure, yet the majority of male-female income households require two incomes. Addressing pay equity is part of preserving that slice of the middle class as well. 

Dealing pay equity is the right thing to do and if banning questions about salary history helps get us there, I will be uging our new governor to sign this legislation into law.

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