April 4 is Equal Pay Day, the date that marks how far into the next year a woman must work to earn as much as a man earned in the previous year. In other words, our nation’s gender wage gap means women work an extra four months and four days to earn what their male counterparts make in just one year. But, let’s be clear. For Black and Latina women, Equal Pay Day falls much later in the year in August and November.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, Connecticut women earn 83 cents for every dollar paid to men. This discrepancy is larger for women of color: African American women earn 59 cents, and Latina woman earn 48 cents for every dollar paid to white men.

The National Women’s Law Center states that based on today’s wage gap, women lose $418,800 over the course of a 40-year career. For Black women, career losses are $840,040 and for Latinas, the losses mount to $1,043,800. Lost wages mean women have less money to spend on basic goods and household items; expenses that help drive the larger economy and spur economic growth. Lost wages also mean less money to put towards savings in case of emergencies, to grow a family, or towards retirement.

Discussions about pay equity too often turn to denial and victim blaming: women choose to have children; we earn degrees that filter us into jobs with lower wages; or we simply don’t know how to negotiate for higher pay. It’s important to note, however, that the gender wage gap persists regardless of industry or education level and exists within occupations. Research by AAUW also found that among full-time workers just one year after college graduation, women earned an unexplained 7 percent less than their male counterparts.

Without action, the gender wage gap in Connecticut is not expected to close until 2061. This legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly has the opportunity to take significant strides towards pay equity.

Legislation before the General Assembly this year would prohibit employers from inquiring about a potential hire’s salary history. When an employer asks an applicant’s salary history, they unknowingly continue a cycle of lower earnings that may have begun with just one discriminatory pay practice much earlier in an applicant’s career. Wages should reflect the worth and value of the position itself, not the prospective employee’s past earnings.

In addition, the bill would require employers to pay their employees equal wages for comparable work, a standard based on skill, effort and responsibility. This mirrors landmark legislation passed unanimously in Massachusetts last summer with support from the state’s business community, including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM).

The legislation would also protect seniority pay differentials if a worker needs to take leave to care for themselves or a loved one, or welcome a new baby. This coincides with another bill before the CGA this session that supports pay parity: paid family and medical leave.

Paid leave allows employees the chance to tend to family caregiving responsibilities, which disproportionately fall on the shoulders of women, without missing a paycheck. Two bills this session, Senate Bill No. 1 and House Bill No. 6212, would create an earned, or paid, system of family and medical leave for Connecticut workers who need to take time off to care for themselves or a sick family member or welcome a new baby.

Nationally, women are the co- or main breadwinners in close to two-thirds of families with children and more often than not, also serve as the primary caregivers for their children and elderly family members. To balance work and family responsibilities, women may need to reduce hours or leave the workforce entirely, which results in fewer opportunities for raises and promotions.

Contrary to the rhetoric that pro-worker policies like paid leave are “bad for business,” countless research shows that earned family and medical leave benefits similar to those proposed in Connecticut this year will benefit businesses and the broader economy.

The reason is simple: paid family and medical leave boosts a business’ bottom line. It improves productivity, attracts top-talent, lowers expensive turnover costs and fosters a greater attachment to the labor force. In California, a state that has had a successful paid leave program for more than 10 years, almost 90% of businesses surveyed fifteen years after the program’s implementation reported that it had a neutral or positive impact on business.

This year, Connecticut has an opportunity to shine as a leader in policies that combat the gender wage gap and support women, especially women of color, in the workforce. A year from now, on Equal Pay Day, I hope we can look back at our legislative accomplishments in 2017 and know that our future is one where Connecticut women and girls get paid what they are worth.

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