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April 11, 2013

Pay gap ranking only part of story

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The Daily Star

---- — The so-called “pay gap” is a simple term for a complex issue, which was recently highlighted on April 9, Equal Pay Day. 

The National Committee on Pay Equity chose April 9 because the date symbolizes how long into 2013 women must work to catch up with their male counterparts’ 2012 earnings.

But how we arrive at those figures, and understand what they mean, is a little more complicated than that. 

This year, we learned that Oneonta is among U.S. cities with the smallest pay gaps. The City of the Hills was No. 13 on a list of 943 cities, based on median full-time earnings reported in the last census. 

These findings, released by the personal finance website Nerd-Wallet, were cause for celebration for some. Hartwick College Human Resources Director Suzanne Janitz called Oneonta’s place in the top 20 “delightful,” noting that the college has taken steps to seek equity for its staff. 

For Janitz, the answer to getting there has been to look at what other colleges are paying, and to bring Hartwick’s salaries into line with that median. 

For all the hand-wringing about the whys and wherefores of the wage gap, the approach Janitz described is certainly a positive and common-sense approach. 

It’s healthy for institutions to not only examine their own practices on a regular basis, but also to look outside the area to see what competitors are doing. And if this has the secondary benefit of bridging the pay gap and equalizing salaries among men and women, all the better. 

The bigger question, about what it means that Oneonta is near the top of the list, proves harder to answer. With all respect to Janitz, we doubt her 415 employees are enough to move the needle. 

The No. 1 thing that seems to come up when we talk about the wage gap is child-rearing. Women, we’re told, often suffer professionally because they take time off work to care for children. In doing so, they fall behind their male colleagues, running the risk of getting passed over for promotions, and creating gaps on their resumes. 

While this narrative is insufficient to account for everyone’s situation (more than 30 women have brought lawsuits against their employers for pay discrimination since President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009), it does highlight a problem that is both societal and financial, and one that neither Janitz’s nor Obama’s solutions can truly address. 

As long as women are forced to choose between their infant and their career, we will continue to have a wage gap in this country. And as nice as it is to see that the gap in Oneonta is relatively small, it’s no reason to think there isn’t room for improvement.