Last month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that repealed the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act. The law had allowed employees that have experienced compensation discrimination based on their protected status to pursue damage claims in state courts. Women especially were dismayed; the wage gap between men and women is very real.
The governor and proponents of the repeal said the law had no effect beyond "lining the pockets of trial lawyers." Wage gap data tells a different story: In 2009, Wisconsin ranked 36th in terms of gender parity in the workplace. New data shows a marked improvement: The state ranked 25th.
Our border states are within one or two points -- both higher and lower. It's hard to know if it's a Midwestern thing or a "rust belt" thing. Heavy industry like steelmaking and hard labor like mining tend to foster high-paying jobs, but most of those jobs are for men.
While this gender gap in earnings initially started to narrow after 1970, in recent years little or no progress has been made. The gap is even heightened in particular industries or working environments, such as the "boy's club" on Wall Street, where women only manage to extract between 55 to 62 cents for every dollar their male co-workers are earning.
The depth of the problem is underlined by the fact that even after researchers took into account such factors as age, race and ethnic origin, religion, marital status, work experience, education, occupation, and industry, amongst other factors, and there was still a big gap. One year after college graduation, men earned 5 percent more than women. Over time, the gap widens, until their earnings are 12 percent higher than their female coworkers 10 years after their college graduation, with no evident explanation except unlawful gender discrimination.
Even without the enforcement act, gender discrimination is still illegal in Wisconsin. The repeal of the act means that the employee that is discriminated against has a steeper uphill battle ahead when seeking redress.
The Huffington Post, "Equal Pay Day: AAUW Releases State By State Gender Wage Gap Rankings," Emma Gray, April 17, 2012
The Daily Beast, "Wisconsin's repeal of equal pay rights adds to battles for women," Michelle Goldberg, April 7, 2012