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Thursday January 20th

Could the gender wage gap close in North Carolina?

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The gender pay wage gap could become a thing of the past for North Carolina. 

The bill was filed on April 2, National Equal Pay Day, in the General Assembly to prohibit wage discrimination on the basis of gender.

“I do believe the time is right now,” N.C. Sen. Kirk deViere, D-19 and a sponsor of the bill, said. “... there’s no reason in 2019 that an African-American female should be making 61 cents compared to a white male.”

On the same day, Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 93, which addresses the gender pay wage gap among female state employees.

“Women have strengthened our state and our country for generations, but an unfair wage gap continues to hurt women workers — especially women of color,” Cooper said in a press release. “This Equal Pay Day, my administration is taking action to address the gender pay gap among state workers.”

According to the press release, the median annual pay for women with a full-time, year-round job in North Carolina is $36,400. For men with a full-time, year-round job, the median annual pay is $45,000. 

Essentially, women are paid approximately 85 cents for every dollar white men are paid.

But looking at the wage gap for women of color is even worse, said Vasu Reddy, senior policy counsel for workplace programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families. 

In North Carolina, Black women are paid 64 cents, Latinas are paid 48 cents and Asian women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic, white men. 

“What we can learn from this is that the wage gap has very pervasive effects for women, especially women of color but for all women in this country,” Reddy said. 

Reddy also said the money women are not being paid due to the wage gap could be used to pay for various necessities. If the gender wage gap were eliminated, the average North Carolina woman could pay for about 47 more weeks of groceries. 

According to the N.C. Policy Watch, unequal pay can hurt the economy since women comprise 47.8 percent of the workforce but nearly 70 percent of them are earning $11.50 or less per hour.

Policies like the state's Equal Pay Act can help the economy while reducing the number of single mothers receiving government assistance, Reddy said.

deViere works with an initiative called Pathways For Prosperity, which addresses generational poverty in the Fayetteville area. The current poverty level in Cumberland County is 19 percent with 42.9 percent of single mothers living in poverty.  

North Carolina has a general employment discrimination law but no law prohibiting unequal pay.

In April 2013, a previous version Equal Pay Act was authored and sponsored by former N.C. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-34, although it did not pass. If ratified, the bill would have ensured equal wages among all employees for the same type of work. 

The new Equal Pay Act intends to prohibit wage gap discrimination by making it unlawful to require employees to refrain from discussing their salaries and banning the use of a prospective employee’s salary history during the hiring process. The bill also prohibits employers from seeking the the prior wages of a current or former employee. 

“It’s important to address those things because if you don’t, then the wage gap continues,” N.C. Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-41 and another sponsor of the bill, said. “We want to break that and have women considered at the same wage level as men and we need to erase that past payment history so that we don’t continue the wage gap.”

Executive Order No. 93 addresses the gender pay wage gap for state employees by directing state government agencies to forbid the use of salary history when hiring employees. 

“They’re very similar,” said deViere. “It’s the same intent, the Senate bill we filed is just wider reaching.”

deViere said he is optimistic that there can at least be a conversation about the issue. 

“I believe there’s a House bill as well, so we’re attacking the issue from both angles and trying to address this issue,” said deViere. “There should not be this level of disproportionate income.”


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