The Era of Gender Wage Inequality is Ending

By LETITIA JAMES

The era of wage-based inequality is beginning to end.

On May 5, after 50 years of fighting, women of New York City took a huge step towards closing the gender wage gap and achieving true economic parity with the signing into law of my bill that bans employers from asking applicants about their salary history.

This legislation will provide women of all backgrounds with a chance for economic equality; and mitigate the rising inequality in our city.

For too long, the reality for women, and particularly women of color, has been bleak. My office found that for every dollar that a white man working in New York City makes, a white woman earns 84 cents, an Asian woman earns 63 cents, a Black woman earns 55 cents, and a Hispanic woman earns 46 cents. In total, women in New York City are shortchanged by $5.8 billion per year compared to their male counterparts.

When previous salary information is used to determine future compensation, women are stuck in a discriminatory cycle of underpayment. My law will prevent this never-ending pattern, by forcing employers to compensate workers for their worth, not their past salary.

This change couldn’t be more timely.

Economic inequality is at an all-time high, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The population of the lowest and highest income tiers has risen dramatically over the last 40 years, shrinking the traditionally broad middle class and transforming it into the economic minority, according to the Pew Research Center.

Equal pay legislation offers a way to bolster the increasingly displaced middle class, the lifeblood of this country. Women receiving fair and equal pay for equal work means economically stronger lower income families, with a greater chance to move into the middle class. That also means more money for the economy, as women and families spend the additional money they earn. The increase in consumption will boost demand in the market and create economic growth that in turn benefits everyone.

Whether they work in the classroom or the courtroom, on highways or in the hospital, women will benefit from equal pay legislation.

Equal pay legislation will help both the women who are trying to break through the glass ceiling and those trying to avoid the floor collapsing beneath them.

While my legislation is limited to New York City, lawmakers around the country have taken notice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken action through an executive order banning New York State entities from asking applicants to disclose current or prior compensation. Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon, and Philadelphia have all recently passed similar legislation. There could be a frenzy of legislation in the future, as states around the country consider similar measures.

The passage of this groundbreaking legislation is a bold step forward for women everywhere.

By banning salary history, New York City is helping to lead the fight for equal compensation and ultimately equal treatment for women here and across the country.  Because true equality begins with an equal paycheck.

Letitia James is the public advocate of New York City.

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