The gender pay gap is one of the more argued-over concepts in politics.
While it is technically illegal to base compensation on gender, Pennsylvania women still make an average of around 79 cents for every dollar a man makes.
Studies — like a 2017 one from the National Bureau of Economic Research — have shown that disparities have a lot to do with motherhood. The NBER analysis showed that early in their careers, college-educated men and women tend to make similar salaries.
But as time goes on, men pull ahead.
When women have children, they tend to start making less than their male counterparts. Researchers pointed to a number of reasons: often, they’ve taken time off and lost seniority, or employers assume they’re less committed because they have primary caregiving duties.
This week, Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing a legislative package that, among other things, aims to even the playing field when it comes to balancing work and parenthood.
Philly Democratic Representative Brian Sims is one of the co-sponsors on a bill that aims to update the commonwealth’s Equal Pay Law. It seeks to guarantee women get the same fringe benefits men do, and would protect people from retaliation when asking about wages.
It also includes a clause forbidding loss of seniority when a woman takes maternity leave.
“What we’ve made sure is, when a woman has to take time off for pregnancy, that that doesn’t count against her in a seniority system,” Sims said. “If a woman and her attorney are able to prove that an employer has negatively impacted her in the seniority system because of childbirth, that she should have a cause for redress.”
Also included in the package is a bill sponsored by Maria Donatucci, another Philadelphia Democrat.
It would create new penalties for employers found to be discriminating based on gender and would establish a commission to study pay discrepancies.
Some lawmakers are looking for broader solutions.
Democrat Tim Briggs, of Montgomery County, has a proposal that would create paid family leave.
It would allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off work at full pay. That money would be covered by the state, and the time off would be counted against existing Family Federal Leave Act weeks.
Five other states — California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington — and Washington D.C. offer paid family leave.
Briggs argues, one of the best ways to even out the pay gap is by relieving the pressure women often feel to make professional sacrifices in the name of childcare. Studies have borne out this observation.
“If you’re having to leave your job unpaid, or leave the workforce entirely, or reduce your amount of work, it will have a direct impact on your earnings through the years,” he said.
He added “my wife took leave when we had children. I took vacation time. If it was a little more balanced, maybe we would have been able to stretch our time with our children even more.”
Bills like these haven’t typically fared well in Pennsylvania’s House and Senate.
“Historically,” Sims noted, “Republicans have opposed this legislation.”
He said he thinks Democrats will be able to get at least a few GOP members on board during this legislative session, though he added it will be a tall order to get the package of bills over the finish line.