Pennsylvania lags in equal pay

Boston or bust

Since the start of the presidential election, people have joked about where they will move if their candidate isn’t elected. Canada is high on the list. Me? I’m ready to move to Massachusetts. Here’s why.

In Pennsylvania, women's paychecks don't add up. (Photo by Sarah Mirk via Creative Commons/Flickr)

The most nerve-wracking moment in any job interview is when a human resources representative asks, “What are your salary requirements?”

If I aim too high, I disqualify myself. If I shoot too low, I might be hired at a salary far below my needs and qualifications. Plus, there is the dreaded moment before an interview even starts, when, despite submitting a resume, references and a portfolio, I am asked to fill out a form stating my salary history.

It feels like a street corner game of three-card monte. No matter what I say, the odds are with the house. I always wonder why employers don’t simply tell me the salary range and make their decision based on my experience and skill set.

Evening the odds

I have sweated out these moments from my first job as a college student straight through my 40s and 50s. At one point, when asked for my salary requirements, I snapped, “Well, I wouldn’t want to make over a quarter mil because that would push me into a higher tax bracket.” The interviewer didn’t appreciate my wit.

This week, Massachusetts was the first state to pass legislation that turns the tables in women’s favor. Starting in July 2018, employers there will not be allowed to ask job seekers about salary requirements or history. They will also lift the ban on employees revealing their salaries to one another.

Reading that news made me want to scream. Finally! At last! But not here. Not yet. This is the game that has kept women’s and men’s salaries unequal since before the days of Rosie the Riveter. That inequality isn’t just at the start of women’s careers; it lasts throughout their lives. Do the math: If you are a woman who earns minimum wage in her first job, and every employer has the right to your salary history, how many jobs will it take to rise above the poverty level?  

For many women, it’s a vicious cycle. They work full time, sometimes in more than one job, and never rise above $30,000 a year. Try buying a home, getting childcare, paying car insurance and sending two kids through college on that.

Working together

While efforts to pass this kind of legislation have traditionally been opposed by the Republican party and its little brother, the Chamber of Commerce, Massachusetts was able to get enthusiastic bipartisan support. This development gives me hope. In one of the only areas where Republicans and Democrats agree this election cycle, both Clinton and Trump support equal pay for women. But when will Harrisburg get on board?

Statistically, Pennsylvania women are worse off than the national average when it comes to pay equality, earning only 54 to 83 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to Dot McLane, president of Pennsylvania’s branch of the American Association of University Women. The current law has not been updated since 1967. Meanwhile, House Bill 1160 for equal pay legislation has been languishing in committee like an unwanted fruitcake.

Last April, on National Pay Equity Day, women’s groups, labor, and legislators from both parties rallied at the Rotunda in Harrisburg. They learned that in Pennsylvania, female college graduates earn seven percent less than their male counterparts starting their first year out of college, and women over 65 are twice as likely to live in poverty as are men.

Republican State Representative Katherine Watson spoke on the House floor, stating that, at the rate we are going, it will take Pennsylvania women 50 years to close the income gap. Fifty years?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait that long. 

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