Liam Day thinks there are deeper issues to pay inequality than Gov. Scott Walker repealing Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act.
Apparently Gov. Scott Walker is at it again. The Wisconsin governor who created such a firestorm a year ago when he pushed through changes to the public employee benefit system in his state signed a law last week repealing Wisconsin’s three-year old Equal Pay Enforcement Act. Coming as it does on the heels of other high profile events—Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut, Congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, and so-called personhood laws being pushed in states from Virginia to Oklahoma—some pundits are viewing this latest legislative act as yet another in a war on some women.
But is it? I think there are two things to consider: 1) is the repeal itself; and 2) is the rhetoric used by those who advocated repeal.
As for the repeal itself, I believe there are, just as there were a year ago for the public employee benefit changes Governor Walker proposed, reasonable arguments for repealing the law. Federal legislation already exists to help workers who believe they have been discriminated against sue for damages, up to the same amount set by Wisconsin’s now defunct pay equity law – $300,000. Advocates charge that recouping damages in federal court is considerably more arduous and time-consuming than pursuing the same damages in state court. That’s a fair point, but the recourse is there, nonetheless, even in the absence of state law.
There is also the matter of the 14th amendment, which was passed during Reconstruction to make discrimination based on the color of one’s skin illegal. Conceivably, it provides protection based on inclusion in other, what have been called, protected classes, including being a woman.
Perhaps most significantly, however, is the growing evidence that women, particularly women under the age of 30, are fast catching up to or have already caught the men in their age-bracket. Time Magazine just ran a cover story on “The Richer Sex: Women are Overtaking Men as America’s Breadwinners. . .” According to the feature, women under the age of 30 who are unmarried and have no kids outearn their male peers in a majority of cities. According to the Huffington Post, Business Week corroborated the data earlier this year.
Perhaps, then, women don’t require as much pay protection as they used to. But there’s the question of the rhetoric that was peddled in support of repeal. The money quote comes from Wisconsin Republican state senator Glenn Grothman, who was one of the most outspoken advocates of repeal: “You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious.”
I’m not sure which is the more grossly stupid – the blatant sexism of Senator Grothman’s comment or the idea that he honestly believes that the average family can any longer subsist on a single income in today’s America.
There is a serious conversation to be had about pay equity in this country. It is not simply a matter of comparing paychecks, but involves maternity (and paternity) leave, child care support for working mothers, and all of the other structural barriers that too often force women to choose between pursuing a career and raising a family. And it is here, I suspect, where we find evidence of a war on women. For my suspicion is that conservative supporters of repealing pay equity laws, such as Senator Grothman, don’t want to have that conversation, because they don’t believe a woman should be able to both pursue a career and raise a family. By keeping advocates’ attention on the paychecks, they don’t have to consider the policies that truly prevent pay equity. Pay equity advocates shouldn’t fall for the bait.