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Ladies, if you knew for a fact that the man sitting in the desk next to yours is getting $10,000 more a year than you for the same work, how would you react?

What if it’s only $7,000 or $5,000? Are you OK with that? And how would you spend that missing money if it were in your paycheck as well as in his?

Let’s face it, the numbers tell the story in this situation: the median pay, adjusted for education, age and hours, is $50,412 for men compared to $39,905 for women in Pennsylvania.

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day when a woman’s earnings catch up with what a white male made the year prior. The average woman working full time in the United States has to work 15 months to earn what a male does in just 12. You may not think that you are impacted by the gender pay gap, but it occurs in every industry and every type of job. Members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Pennsylvania have worked tirelessly to urge legislative action to close the gender pay gap once and for all.

What’s the result of the gender pay gap? Since 45 percent of workers in Pennsylvania are women and are paid 79 percent of what their male counterparts make, women are poorer and stay poorer than men. Over a lifetime (47 years), the total estimated loss of earnings of women compared to men is $700,000 for a high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate and $2 million for a professional school graduate. This holds for women of all ages, at all stages of their careers, at all education levels, and all races.

Struggling to pay off student loans? Analysis shows that four years after graduation, women working full time paid off 33 percent of student loan debt compared to 44 percent for men.

The continuing fight of single working mothers to rise out of economic insecurity is tough to justify when the wages of the top 10 percent of workers have risen 138 percent since 1979 while the rest of the work force’s real wages have risen only 6 percent — since 1979. No wonder so many of us feel our wallets just don’t keep us afloat, but women even more than men.

The statistics are staggering: 71 percent of mothers work for pay; 41 percent of mothers are sole or primary breadwinners; and 32 percent of mothers are single mothers. What that means for many children is that not only do their mothers not have the luxury of time with and for them, but frequently poverty is the norm. Pay inequality isn’t just a women’s issue, it is a family issue, a fairness issue and the key to families making ends meet.

Some women don’t think they are impacted by the gender pay gap — that this is a not their reality. Why? Because they don’t know how their pay stacks up. In the private sector, pay ranges and practices are often not transparent, so one only becomes aware of pay differences if salary is discussed with peers. Yet, in many work cultures, talking about pay is frowned upon or even met with disciplinary action.

Many think the problem of gender pay gap doesn’t exist in the public sector because pay ranges and job grades are published. Here, sometimes jobs typically filled by women are not graded as highly as a position with similar impact, level of required skills, and responsibility typically filled by a man. And many women in the private sector report discrimination in promotions. So they believe they are paid equally in the current pay grade yet are never selected for positions to higher grades.

Linda Babcock, co-author of “Women Don’t Ask,” believes that a substantial reason that women are paid less is that they ask less often and ask for less. Men are four times more likely to ask for a raise, and women, when they do ask, ask for 30 percent less. In addition, negotiation is especially tricky for women, because some behaviors, like self-promotion, may backfire for women while considered acceptable for men. Research shows that some women are even penalized for defying gender stereotypes. While women will go to the mat for their loved ones, negotiating for oneself is a neglected skill among women.

We have an opportunity to change the course. Two bills are before the Pennsylvania state legislature — SB1160 and SB303. These bills are good for employees and employers. Employees are protected from retaliation if they report wage inequity, file a charge or complaint, participate in an investigation, or inquire about or discuss wages with other employees. If passed into law, a woman can have that salary discussion with peers.

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These bills are good for employers because they clarify an employer’s responsibilities and defenses, which helps businesses avoid costly litigation and legal problems. From the perspective of hiring and retaining the best employees, pay equity makes good business sense. Turnover impacts productivity and customer satisfaction in addition to the costs associated with hiring and training.

These bills are languishing in committee and are likely to stay there. State Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-199, recently told us the bills will stay in committee until voters care enough to contact their duly elected legislators to make it worth spending political capital on getting them to the floor for a vote.

So, what would you do with the additional $10,000 a year? Make an extra student loan payment? Pay for groceries, utilities, child care, transportation? Save? This additional income would benefit whether the head of a household or married and earning the family’s second paycheck.

We all know that men go into a store and buy the thing they came for. Women, on the other hand, shop for the entire family and household. The U.S. economy would have produced additional income of $447.6 billion if women received equal pay.

If pay equity is important to you, contact your state representative and senator and tell them.

Libby Hutcheson and Ann Pehle are the Public Policy Co-Chairs of the American Association of University Women — Carlisle.

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