There are many issues that we must address here in Tennessee. One issue that is personal to me is that of women’s rights, notably equal pay for equal work. My wonderful wife Lauren has spent many years working hard to build her career in media and production. Like many women, she has found that often she was not paid the same as men in similar jobs. My mother is a strong woman. As the oldest child, I watched as she struggled to raise four children on her own. She had to fight every day and often did without things she needed so that she could provide for her children. The fact is, we see similar stories far too often in our communities. This is the greatest and most prosperous nation in history and yet we still hold back half of our population. Why?
According to the National Partnership For Women & Families, in the state of Tennessee women working full-time jobs earn an average of $34,009 a year. Compare that to the average of $41,661 earnings by men and you find a difference of $7652. Women in Tennessee are earning $.82 on the dollar compared to men. That is a loss of 18% of income lost each year. This hurts women and families. For African-American and Latino women the pay gay is even greater. On average Tennessee women combined are losing billions of dollars each year. This hurts women, their families, and the state economy suffers.
In nearly half the homes with children, women are the primary income earners and make up half the workforce. With the extra earnings women could pay for fourteen extra months of childcare. They could seek additional education at universities or help pay off existing student loan debt. These losses in pay could provide a year’s worth of groceries or several months of rent or mortgage payments. The money that they could be spending on goods and services is also hurting Tennessee businesses. This is money that could be flowing back into the economy. The lack of equal pay for equal work hurts everyone.
Sadly, the pay gap is spread across most industries in the state. Studies will show that in fields such as education, management, sales, administrative, and manufacturing women are still being paid less than their male counterparts. Even with higher education women are paid less. Women who obtain a master’s degree still only earns 72 cents on the dollar compared to a male with a master’s degree. And while this is a problem across the country, in Tennessee, we can start to correct the issue.
There are ways that we can begin to level the playing field. Just for starters we can add more protections that identify discriminatory pay. Along with compensation awarded by the Equal Pay Act, we can seek to further penalize companies that have been proven to discriminate in pay. We MUST increase the minimum wage to a living wage. We should seek legislation that creates mandatory, full-paid family leave and maternity leave so that families do not suffer financial hardships during times of family crisis or the birth of a new child. We should also seek ways in which we can offer more affordable childcare to working mothers.
For far too long women have been held back in the workplace. Women have endured sexual misconduct and unequal pay for far too long. We are holding back half of our population, half of Tennessee workers. Why? It is 2018, the year of the woman. It is time women are treated as equals. The time to end discriminatory pay is now. Stand with me as I fight for equal pay for equal work!