By BECKY GILLETTE
When women get paid considerably less than men for doing the same work, it can amount to “daylight robbery on the job,” said Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, director of the Mississippi Women Economic Security Initiative, a project of the Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative.
Those lower wages can be especially difficult for mothers because of child care costs. And it can cause considerable stress for single mothers struggling to pay for rent, utilities, food and health care.
“Employers recognize that women have a good work ethic and are reliable about showing up for work, but they need support systems in order to do that,” Overton-Welchlin said. “To be economically secure, women need access to higher wages.”
Mississippi and Alabama are the only two states in the country without an equal pay law. And that is significant in light of the fact that in Mississippi, the pay gap between men and women for the same work is even greater than the national average. Women earn 82 cents compared a dollar to men nationally, while it is 75 cents for women compared to a dollar for men in Mississippi.
“For a black woman, it is even less than that,” said Overton-Welchlin said. “One thing we did this past legislative session is start pushing for an equal pay bill. We have partners on both the Democratic and Republican sides. One of the things we know is Mississippi lacks policies that assure equal pay for comparable work. That can allow intentional gender-based discrimination. We are pushing for a bill requiring equal pay for comparable work.”
The bill would also require that both women and men be allowed access to merit based pay increases, and it would prohibit pay secrecy policies.
“At some workplaces, employees cannot discuss what they make,” Overton-Welchin said. “If employees could discuss what they making without the threat of being fired, it would be a significant win for women in the state of Mississippi.”
Overton-Welchlin said while there are some federal guidelines, Mississippi could do a whole lot more to protect workers on the state level.
“If other states have equal pay laws, why can’t we have that too?” she asks. “We need to do this if we are serious about raising the floor so women can also have access to better wages. To accomplish this, we formed a bipartisan coalition in the past session, Both Republicans and Democrats see this is not a partisan issue. Lynn Fitch, state treasurer, is part of that coalition as is the chair of the legislative black caucus, Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport.”
There can be success when employers recognize the problem and make the commitment to address it. A case in point is the City of Clinton. Overton-Welchlin said men are paid more than women in Hinds and Madison Counties, and the cities of Madison and Jackson.
“However, Mayor Phil Fisher of Clinton did a salary study that led them to leveling the playing field,” Overton-Welchlin said.
For more information on Mississippi Women’s Economic Security Initiative, see the website http://mswomensecure.org/.