Equal pay doesn't add up

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

It’s been 45 years since the Equal Pay Act became law and yet in New Mexico, women earn $9,000 less on average than men. Furthermore, New Mexico also has more women living in poverty than any other state in America, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The Institute also finds the median annual income for full-time employed women is $25,600, compared to $34,300 for men and the 2005 U.S. Census Bureau shows on average, a woman working in America earns $.77 to every $1 made by a man.

Gender-pay inequality adds extra burden on New Mexico working families and on the public because many women who work fulltime still cannot earn enough to support their families, according to an April 2008 analysis from the Southwest Women’s Law Center.

The analysis found that more than half of the women who work fulltime and year-round in 29 of New Mexico’s 33 counties earn so little, they actually qualify for food stamps and child-care assistance for a family of four.

The center’s findings also indicate that the earnings gap for minority women and men compared to white men is “extremely high” but it is compounded for minority women, stated the center. In 2004, Hispanic women earned 53 percent, Native American women earned 55 percent, and African American women earned only 58 percent of what white men earned.

Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties, said in an interview this morning she does not know if the equal pay issue will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session.

It’s not something that would come up in one of her committees, she said, but could possibly be raised in the Health and Services Committee or be introduced by an individual legislator.

“I’ve not had any individuals coming up and complaining to me about the issue,” Wallace said.

She added that she gets paid the same as every other legislator: nothing.

In a news release, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said it is wrong for two people to do the same work at the same level but be treated differently because of their gender.

He voted in Congress against wage discrimination and to support women’s educational equity through a program that promotes education equity for women and girls with competitive grants.

Udall also is a sponsor of bipartisan legislation to build upon the Equal Pay Act, titled the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” designed to strengthen the Equal Pay Act.

“Women work as hard as men and make as many important contributions to New Mexico’s economic life,” Udall said. “But 45 years after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, significant wage inequity continues. It’s discriminatory, and it’s wrong. Our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends deserve better.”