Thursday, October 16, 2014


Massachusetts is struggling with a problem that keeps popping up in the news. And people keep being stunned and amazed.

Women in this state make 70 cents for every dollar that men make.

And that is in this bastion of education, liberalism, and progressivism. Massachusetts had the first law in the country about equal pay, in 1945, according to several of these articles and posts. Here is a little blurb about the activity that may well have led to that law - concern about the women who stepped into industrial jobs for the WWII effort. At that time, (and still in many minds), jobs were classified as male and female. Some employers cut the pay for welding or other "male" jobs when women took those jobs during the war. The AFL-CIO was concerned that returning veterans would find their pay remained cut after they took back their pre-war positions. When vets came back from the war, Massachusetts passed what has become known as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), M.G.L. Chapter 149, §105A.

Here are a series of articles and blog posts through the years, starting with the most recent, where the press alert the public to this startling piece of news and call for action:

Wage Gap For Women Persists Despite Some Progress (Boston Globe 9/28/14)

Massachusetts Women and the Wage Gap (Fact sheet 4/2013 from National Partnership for Women and Families)

Mind the Gap (Boston Magazine 2/2013)

The Importance of Fair Pay for Massachusetts Women (Fact Sheet 4/2012 from National Women's Law Center)

It's striking that the 2012 fact sheet mentions the gap as 81 cents to the dollar. The 2013 fact sheet says 77 cents to the dollar. And the 2014 article says 70 cents to the dollar. Women seem to be losing ground, even as these articles, fact sheets and conferences are flailing away at the problem! Just in 2 years, we've dropped from 81 cents to 70 cents, or lost 11 cents to the average man's dollar! Hmmph.

There are a number of federal and state laws in place that are supposed to prevent discrimination or unequal pay on the basis of sex (or race, for that matter). A handy, publicly available pamphlet from the law firm Foley Hoag is one of the links on this state web page about Massachusetts Laws About Wages. (scroll down on the page to "Other Web Sources" to find "Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws: What Every Employer Needs to Know, Foley Hoag.") According to the pamphlet, employers can justify differences in wages based on

* a merit system
* a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production
* a seniority system
* differences in training, education, experience
* any factor other than gender or race

It all sounds so benign. And yet it works like this. A woman may take time off when she has a baby. She may even stay out of the workforce a few years, while her children are little. During those years, the cadre of men or childless women who entered her profession at the same time she did, move along, gaining experience, and moving up the professional ladder. This can work just the same for a woman who takes time off to care for aging parents or in-laws, too, of course. The individual who dropped out to take care of child or parents is falling behind their cohort.

The mother, later, comes back to the workforce, as if she had been in stasis, professionally. She may not have been able to keep up with new developments, and new technology. The mother has been quite busy doing other things that are very important, not just to her and her family, actually, but also to society as a whole. We should value and recognize the importance of parenting and care-taking, no matter which gender is taking time to focus on this task. Perhaps as more men become stay-at-home fathers, this might start to change.

But the return to work, unless the individual can buff up skills with some courses, is tough at best. The worker has fallen behind on developments and skill sets. Even if she/he can make up through training courses, those years of wage growth and professional networking, ladder-climbing have been missed. While the entry cohort has advanced 5 years, the mother has remained at the professional level where she stepped out of the workforce to parent. One more way in which women, on average, fall behind in pay levels.

There are lots of others ways. Just a week ago, the CEO of Microsoft explained how women should allow karma to help them get pay raises, rather than being so bitchy as to actually ask!

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