Equal work for equal pay. It’s a simple concept but one that is still far from reality for women all across the state and country. Too many women earn less than their male colleagues for the same work. Not only is this unfair, but the long-term economic consequences are quite significant.

Tuesday, on National Equal Pay Day, we all must commit to closing the gender wage gap, ending discrimination in the workplace and promoting fair work conditions. Maine lawmakers can start by passing my bill: L.D. 278, “An Act Regarding Pay Equality.”

National Equal Pay Day represents the date when the median wage for American women will have caught up with the median wage for American men from the previous year. To put it simply, the average woman in the U.S. has to work 15 months to earn what the average man earned in 2018 for 12 months of work. The difference of three months’ worth of wages certainly adds up.

Maine women make 82 cents for every dollar Maine men make. Nationally, women earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn. The end result is an average annual loss of $10,000. For women of color, the wage gap is much larger.

When women earn less than their male colleagues for the same work, it isn’t just unfair – it’s harmful to them, their families and our economy. This is evident throughout the span of a woman’s life. Women hold two-thirds of the country’s student loan debt, and the gap in earnings puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to paying it off. Their children are more likely to grow up in poverty when they earn less than they deserve. Finally, the wage gap puts limits on women’s ability to save for retirement and the ability to accrue Social Security benefits.

On average, women live longer than men. Because of the pay and savings gap, taxpayer dollars are often tapped into to support women in their later years. Narrowing this gap will benefit Maine taxpayers in the long run.

As a lawmaker, it’s my responsibility to do everything I can to spend tax dollars prudently. That’s why I introduced L.D. 278. The bill promotes pay equality by discouraging employers from basing wages on an employee’s salary history.

Ending the practice of basing wages on previous salaries is a crucial step forward. Far too often, one act of pay discrimination at a woman’s first job follows her throughout her entire career, because employers may base compensation on previous, unfair salary rates. That’s why the average wage gap for an American woman is upward of $400,000 over a lifetime of work.

By encouraging employers to base salaries on market rates, skill, experience, educational background, or prior job performance of each applicant, we can reverse this trend and promote fair wages. And Maine taxpayers benefit as well.

Equal Pay Day is about recognizing women’s worth and paying women what they deserve. Each year that passes by, the wage gap continues to hurt Maine women, children, and our economy.

I first introduced this bill in 2016. Unfortunately, despite passing in the Legislature, it was vetoed by then-Gov. Paul LePage. Since then, several states have already adopted this policy or similar policies. Twelve states have enacted policies to discourage salaries based on wage history, including our neighbors in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. Now, it’s Maine’s turn.

It’s time to pass my equal pay legislation into law and pay Maine women fairly. It only makes sense – for our workers and for our economy as a whole – that we make sure Mainers have pay equality.

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