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Guest opinion: Montana will prosper with equal pay for equal work

Guest opinion: Montana will prosper with equal pay for equal work

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Fifty years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, American women earn, on average, 77 percent of what their male counterparts do. Here in Montana, women are earning only 67 percent for doing the same work, putting Montana in 39th place for pay equity. We’d match the Montana work ethic up against any other state in the nation, and 39th place is unacceptable.

Before the Equal Pay Act, newspapers published separate job listings for men and women, with the higher level jobs listed almost exclusively under “Help Wanted-Male.” In some cases the ads ran identical jobs under male and female listings, but with separate pay scales. Separate, of course, meant unequal. Between 1950 and 1960, women with full-time jobs earned, on average, between 59 and 64 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned in the same job.

While gains have been made in the last 50 years, pay equity is still a major issue affecting a huge part of Montana’s economy. Montana women have great aspirations; they’re graduating from college at the same rates as men, and it goes without saying that women work just as hard. Women are contributing to the economic prosperity of our state, but they are not enjoying the same economic rewards for their work.

There are many reasons that women make less money than men. Studies have shown that women do not advocate for their own salaries as aggressively as men, and have lower expectations about salaries. Women are also more likely to leave or take a break from the workforce to raise children. And while it has been illegal for half a century, pay discrimination does still happen in workplaces across the country.

The Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force will study why and how paycheck inequality happens, but right now, we know one thing for sure – this is a problem.

This task force will identify steps that we can take as a state to close Montana’s wage gap. We will study the magnitude, causes, and consequences of the wage gap in Montana by age, sector, education level, and location.

And, we will promote education and training prospects for women to increase their participation in traditionally male occupations, learn to advocate for their own salary and benefits, and increase their own promotion opportunities.

We will be asking Montanans for their ideas for policies aimed at ending pay discrimination, supporting a healthy and productive work-life balance, and encouraging women to pursue traditionally male-dominated careers.

Since taking office in January, our administration has made Montana working families our top priority. When Montana working families prosper, our state prospers. We know that it’s not enough to bring new business and jobs to our beautiful state; we need to make sure those jobs are high-paying, quality jobs.

It is imperative that young Montanans – the workforce of tomorrow – join Montana’s economy knowing that they’ll earn a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, regardless of their gender. We want our daughters and sons to stay in Montana and raise their own children here because Montana is a place they can prosper and be valued for their contribution to our state’s economy.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock recently appointed Montana Commissioner of Labor & Industry Pam Bucy and Department of Administration Director Sheila Hogan to lead the Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force.

While it has been illegal for half a century, pay discrimination does still happen in workplaces across the country.

Steve Bullock, Pam Bucy and Sheila Hogan
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