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Archive for Friday, February 26, 1999

LAWMAKER, LABOR JOIN FIGHT FOR EQUAL PAY

February 26, 1999

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A new study says the average working family in Kansas loses more than $3,900 annually because of a pay gap between women and men.

Women in Kansas make only 74 cents for every dollar that men earn, a new study found -- and that's draining $2 billion from the state every year.

State Rep. Melany Barnes joined labor leaders in releasing the study last week, saying they would make equal pay for equal work a priority.

"This is something that we've talked about and talked about and talked about," said Barnes, a Wichita Democrat who introduced legislation to close the pay gap between men and women in Kansas. "My mantra is that the turn of the century is the perfect time to finally make things right for women and minorities."

Kansas is one of 20 states across the nation that have introduced equal pay legislation.

According to the study "Equal Pay for Working Families: National and State Data on the Pay Gap and Its Costs," the average working family in Kansas loses more than $3,900 each year to the pay gap. The study was released by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Overall, the study found, working families in Kansas lose $2 billion each year to the wage gap. Nationally, the annual loss is more than $200 billion. The figures couldn't be independently verified.

"Almost half of single-mother households in Kansas and over 50 percent of single-mother households across the country would be lifted out of poverty if equal pay were enacted and enforced at the state level," said Wayne Maichel, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO.

Barnes couldn't say how much it would cost Kansas businesses if new laws were enacted. She acknowledged the legislation could face an uphill battle.

"I don't believe it's going to get a hearing" this session, Barnes said. "Our goal is to educate women about how much money they are losing.

"We're hoping that will motivate and give them incentive to help us with this project, and make sure their legislators understand that working families need a break."

The study, which collected data for 1997, found that the median income for women was $410 a week, compared with $553 a week for men.

Women who are members of minority groups earn $87 less weekly than white women.

The analysis also found that both men and women who work in "female-dominated" jobs, or those in which 70 percent or more of the workers are women, pay a steep price -- $113 million annually.

Jim DeHoff, executive secretary-treasurer of the Kansas AFL-CIO, said addressing the imbalance could have a big impact.

"For many families, it will mean living above the poverty level, decent health care, a college education for the kids and a secure retirement," he said.

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is rbrack@ljworld.com.

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