Let’s close the wage gap here in New Hampshire

I have been blessed to have many titles in life: daughter, sister, wife, state senator – but my favorite one has been mother.

I have two remarkable children – a daughter and a son, and it’s because of my role as mother. I am using my other role as a state senator to make sure our daughters get equal pay for equal work, as outlined in SB 207.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New Hampshire women working full-time, year-round earn 77 cents for every dollar paid to male workers doing the same job. That means if you are a woman earning the New Hampshire median wage, you are losing $8,993 a year, or $749 a month, or $187 a week, due to pay inequality. That’s a whole lot of purchasing power that never makes it into your family budget.

The 50th anniversary of the Federal Equal Pay Act was last year. That act began our nation’s commitment to ensuring women are paid as much as their male coworkers for doing the same work. When President John F. Kennedy signed the bill, he proclaimed that the bill “affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force, they will find equality in their pay envelope.”

More than a decade ago, the New Hampshire Legislature created state paycheck equity. Unfortunately, due to loopholes and weak remedies, our laws are less effective in combating wage discrimination than Congress and the New Hampshire Legislature intend. By passing Senate Bill 207, the New Hampshire Paycheck Fairness Act, we can ensure women will find equality in their paychecks.

SB 207 gives Granite Staters the tools needed to achieve paycheck fairness by passing a much-needed update to our current state law. The New Hampshire Paycheck Fairness Act would have employers, upon a complaint, demonstrate that wage differentials between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work stem from factors other than gender. It prohibits retaliation against employees who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages, strengthens penalties for equal pay violations, and requires employers to display notices in the workplace informing employees of their rights under the New Hampshire Paycheck Fairness Act.

Why a New Hampshire law? We have an out-of-date federal law. There have been attempts to make the needed updates, but unfortunately, obstructionism in D.C. has blocked efforts on the federal level. This is why I am bringing this state level bill forward.

The fact is that women are paid less than their male coworkers for doing the same work is an injustice. Approximately 60 percent of women are acting as the primary or co-breadwinners in their households.

We need concrete and immediate action to improve the economic security of working families and pay equity is critical to this.

The existence of such pay disparities depresses the wages of working families who rely on the wages of all members of the family to make ends meet, undermines women’s retirement security, which is often based on earnings while in the workforce, prevents the optimum utilization of available labor resources, and constitutes an unfair method of competition.

Elimination of wage disparities would reduce the number of women earning unfairly low wages and strengthen families.

Median income data shows that women face a pay gap in nearly every occupation.
From elementary and middle school teachers to computer programmers, women are paid less than men in every instance, whether the occupation is female-dominated, gender-
balanced and male-dominated.

I think it’s vital to note that even after one year out of college,  women working full-time were paid on average just 82 percent of what their male peers were paid, according to a recent study that looked at the earnings of women and men one year after college graduation.

Among business majors, for example, women were paid slightly more than $38,000, while men were paid more than $45,000. Think about that for a second if you have son and daughter, like I do. If they both graduated with a business degree, your daughter would make less than your son. It’s important because it’s not as if our daughters get to pay less on their student loan payments, or rent, or even when they buy groceries at the store.

The New Hampshire Legislature must act to close the gender gap and pass the New Hampshire Paycheck Fairness Act. Let’s end this problem for our daughters; let’s not leave it for our daughters or their daughters to fix.

Sen. Sylvia B. Larsen is the Senate Democratic Leader and represents District 15 in the state Senate.