Abook on American history can often expose the reader to how much life has changed or remained the same over the course of time, whether it’s a century or even a decade ago.
Think about the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, particularly the bombing of a Baptist Church Sunday School in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, or the murder of three workers from the Coalition for Racial Equality in northern Mississippi a year later. It pains me to think of the turbulence which seemed more fitting for 19th century, yet it was only four years before I was born.
I also shudder to think we once lived in an era when only men enjoyed the right of suffrage, which all changed in 1920 because of the efforts of Susan B. Anthony.
Certainly, our nation has come a long way. But a simple measure of equality remains a glaring sore spot for our state – and it goes up for debate in the 2017 Legislative Session.
A bill by Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, would mandate employers pay women the same amount of compensation for the work by their male counterparts.
Gov. John Bel Edwards in his inaugural address Jan. 11, 2016 called for the bill, and reiterated his request that lawmakers enact the bills.
“It’s a fairness issue, but it’s also a family issue,” he said in his “State of the State Address” Monday at the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. “When a mother goes to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk, it doesn’t cost thirty-three percent less because she is a woman.”
The gap in pay between men and women serves as a black eye for the state.
Louisiana ranks second in the nation among the 10 largest wage gaps between men and women, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center. The 31.2 percent gap in wage for the same jobs between men and women is second only to 33.4 percent in Wyoming.
On a regional comparison, Mississippi ranks sixth at 26.5 percent and Alabama at 25.8 percent. Other states among the largest gaps were Utah, West Virginia, North Dakota, Michigan, Montana and Idaho.
Two southern states occupied the last two spots in the top 10 among smallest wage gaps – Florida (17.4 percent) and Arkansas (18 percent).
The largest recorded wage disparity came in 1973, when women earned 58 percent compared to their male counterparts for the same job, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The gap has tightened to around 80 percent in the last five years, but nothing justifies any disparity.
It’s not the case in most governmental jobs, certainly not in education. What happens in the private sector, however, may vary from business to business.
Considering the number of single-mothers households, it would seem logical to mandate equal pay. By the same measure, some women serve as the sole breadwinner. In many households, women serve as the chief wage-earner because their husband is either out of work or perhaps on disability.
Any way we look at it, Louisiana should move into the 21st century.
Many insiders at the State Capitol believe Norton’s bill will never reach the House floor. If that’s the case, it’s further proof that life is not that different between the history books and present day.