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EDITORIAL: Equal pay and education

July 15, 1998

EDITORIAL: Equal pay and education

Men and women who do the same job should get the same pay. It's a simple concept, but it took 10 years to make it a reality in Washington State, according to a consultant who is helping West Virginia with the pay-equity issue.

Work on the issue began this year when the West Virginia legislature passed SB 31, which orders the state government to study ways to eliminate gender discrimination, including pay inequities. The bill set up an Equal Pay Commission, which is due to report back to the legislature's Joint Committee on Government and Finance by the year 2000.

It's difficult to believe that the report will find widespread and blatant discrimination of the type that once had employers telling female employees that they didn't need as much pay as men, since they didn't have the burden of being family breadwinners.

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Nevertheless, figures from the most recent census showed that West Virginia women earn just 58 cents per hour for every $1 men earn when both are doing the same job. That's a wider disparity than the one that exists at the national level, where woman make 71 cents per hour for every $1 men make in the same position.

Kelly Jenkins-Pultz, a U.S. Labor Department specialist assisting West Virginia, says the project will be a long-term effort, as it was in Washington State and Minnesota.

West Virginia's legislature is looking for ways to implement a ban on gender discrimination, but the long-term solution will not be found in the law. That's because setting up a permanent commission and enforcement mechanisms will not only be costly but a deterrent to the creation of permanent jobs as well.

No, the permanent solution to this problem is educating employers on the benefits of treating men and women equally when it comes to pay and benefits. Better performance will be the payoff once employees realize that their paychecks are based on how well they do their work and not on which restroom they use.

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