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April 9, 2014

In Our Opinion: Equal pay still eludes female workers

Our younger readers might be surprised to learn that there was a time — not so very long ago — when if a female employee went to her boss and complained that she wasn’t getting paid as much as a male employee doing the same or even a lower-level job, this is what she might be told.

“Listen, Toots,” he would say as he puffed away on a cigar, “I pay the men more because they have to support a family.”

While things have improved somewhat — females in the workplace are rarely called “Toots” these days, and smoking in office buildings is frowned upon — the only thing that has really changed is that the boss is a bit more discreet while women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts.

That whole “men need to be paid more because they support a family” was absurd at its base. What should have always mattered was the work being done, not the workers’ family circumstances.

And today, fully 40 percent of women who have children living in their homes are the sole financial support of those families.

In central New York, according to statistics released by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday, an estimated 90,000 households depend on mothers’ earnings, but working women earn on average of $105 less each week than men. In Otsego County’s 4,482 such households, the disparity is $115.

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day in the United States. The date marks the additional time when women have to work into 2014 to match what males made in 2013. President Barack Obama marked the occasion by signing an executive order barring federal contractors from penalizing workers who tell each other what they are earning.

“For people to know that they are being discriminated against, they need to ask someone else, ‘What are you making?’” said Betsey Stevenson, a White House Council of Economic Advisers member.

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