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(c) by Mary Griggs

With a poverty rate of 18% and a median income of $41,896, Louisiana is one of the poorest states in America. Louisiana also has one of the greatest pay disparities in the nation. Women in Louisiana earn less across all occupations and educational levels and their median earnings are less than men’s median earnings in 264 of 265 major occupation categories.

In Louisiana, the average yearly pay for a woman working full time, year round is $30,600 per year, while the average yearly pay for a man is $45,524 per year. This means that women are paid 67 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a yearly gap of $14,924 between full-time working men and women. Minority women fare significantly worse – African-American women working full time, year round in Louisiana were paid only 47 cents and Hispanic women only 53 cents, to every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men who worked full time, year round.

Here is the Louisiana State Equal Pay Fact Sheet from the National Women’s Law Center with more information.

In a state where Census data shows that 17.5 percent of the households  are headed by a single woman, that is can have a significant economic impact.

There are at least two politicians from Louisiana who are trying to do something about this. State Senator Karen Carter Peterson and US Senator Mary Landrieu have been sponsoring legislation and lobbying to improve the laws that govern pay discrimination.

The Equal Pay for Women Act has been introduced by Democrat Karen Carter Peterson in the Louisiana Legislature for several sessions running. The bill is aimed at ensuring that male and female government employees receive the same pay for the same work. The text of the bill stated that unequal pay “leads to low worker morale, threatens the well-being of citizens of this state, and adversely affects the general welfare.” Unfortunately, the bill has never been able to muster the necessary votes for passage.

In the 2012 session, Senator Karen Carter Peterson introduced SB 577 to established a taskforce to look into the issue of equal pay in Louisiana and make recommendations on how to address the gender pay gap. Senator Peterson said, “To even begin to deal with this issue, it’s imperative that we at least identify the root causes. Disparities like this harm our state, deprive it of potential tax revenues and insure working women throughout this state will continue to be at a disadvantage in the job marketplace through no fault of their own. We can and we must do better for the women of Louisiana.” The bill passed both the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by Governor Jindal.

On the federal level, US Senator Mary Landrieu, has been lobbying in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. This legislation updates and strengthens the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay men and women unequal wages for the same work.

The Paycheck Fairness Act closes loopholes that allow employers to escape liability even when gender-based wage discrimination exists. It also includes protections for employees against retaliation for disclosing or discussing their salaries, as well as ensures employees have the same remedies for gender-based pay discrimination as other forms of discrimination such as race or national origin.

So far, however, the Senate has failed to advance the legislation.

What can you do about it? The National Committee on Pay Equity has some suggestions:

Businesses should examine their pay practices to determine if they treat all employees equally. Many employers may not realize their pay scales favor white men as a result of historical and conventional biases and inconsistencies.

Pay equity makes good business sense. It promotes a workforce that feels valued, which helps the bottom line. Today, in our competitive economy, fair pay policies will also help attract the best workers.

Individuals can contact their elected officials to tell them how important fair pay is to you! Also, ask them to co-sponsor and vote for the Equal Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act.

They can also work to educate their coworkers on the impact of the wage gap. Here is a great visual: