Guest Opinions

Idaho: Don’t get left behind on equal pay for women

Tuesday, April 12, represented the day we “celebrate” when a woman’s earnings catch up to what a white male made the year prior. That’s right! The average woman working full time in the U.S. has to work 15 months to earn what a male did in just 12! The pay gap is even worse for women of color and moms who have to work even longer for their salaries to catch up.

Members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Idaho have worked tirelessly to urge legislative action to close the gender pay gap once and for all. But we need additional legislation to give employers and employees the tools to prevent wage discrimination in the first place — and we’ve been waiting too long for that.

Women in Idaho face an average earnings ratio of just 73 percent, which translates into less money for feeding families, paying off student loans and saving for retirement. It also leads to workplace dissatisfaction, low morale, and higher turnover. But compensating women equally can address many of these problems. Without legislative remedies for pay equity, the pace of change has been glacial. Just how long will it take until we see equal pay? At this rate, it could be more than 100 years. Our nation’s economy and the working families that continue to chase the American dream can’t wait that long. If Congress won’t act, the states will and many have shown themselves to be more than willing to move forward on equal pay.

The Idaho legislative session concluded a few weeks ago, marking yet another squandered opportunity to make the lives of Idaho women better and more equitable. Existing Idaho law is weak when it comes to equal pay, but our legislators are not working to address the issue. We need our elected representatives to listen to their constituents and pass some real solutions that will help real Idaho women achieve full economic equality.

Passing a federal law, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, would help protect everyone in all states. But until that happens, each state will continue operating under antiquated regulations and piecemeal state and local laws to combat unequal pay. As we wait for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, Idaho AAUW members including myself will continue to urge the Legislature to make improvements to Idaho equal pay laws so that fair pay is an accessible reality for everyone. I encourage everyone to join us and tell state representatives to be a part of the countrywide movement and ensure equal pay for every Idahoan!

Gayle Wilde, of Boise, is vice president for public policy of the American Association of University Women.