Connecticut to study statewide gender wage gap

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Wednesday that Connecticut will embark on a study of a statewide gender wage gap that leaves women with only 78 cents for every dollar a man receives.

Malloy said the investigation will be undertaken by the state Department of Labor and the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Recommendations are expected by sometime in October.

"This disparity in Connecticut is unacceptably high, and while this is a complicated issue, that cannot be an excuse for inaction," Malloy said in a statement. "It's time for our state to find ways to address gender wage disparity."

"We applaud the governor for showing solid leadership on this critical issue," said Teresa Younger, executive director of the state's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, in a statement. "What is especially exciting is that this directive will be coming out of two agencies not traditionally led by women - DECD and Labor."

Both departments are now headed by women, with Sharon Palmer the commissioner of labor and Catherine Smith heading up DECD.

Younger said the wage gap has closed by less than 1 cent a year nationally since 1963, when Congress passed the Equal Pay Act.

"That rate is abysmally slow and contributes to the erosion of women's financial security, both in the present and over a woman's lifespan," Younger said.

Younger noted that Malloy's directive is in line with President Barack Obama's stance in favor of equal pay for women. Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act four years ago to extend the time women have to file discrimination lawsuits and renewed his support for equal pay at this week's inauguration ceremonies.

"Economic opportunities should be open and equal to all Connecticut residents," said Smith in a statement. "The wage disparity in our state based on gender is troubling."

"This is an issue that deserves our attention because closing the pay gap and raising women's wages will certainly improve the quality of life for many of our citizens," added Palmer.

Women in eastern Connecticut earn slightly less than the statewide average - 75 cents for every dollar a man earns - according to an analysis released last year by the National Partnership for Women & Families. Nationally, women earn 77 cents in the same comparison.

The governor's office, however, released different figures, based on a 2011 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. These figures show Connecticut women earning 75.8 cents for every dollar a man receives, while females nationwide earn 81 cents on the dollar.

Another study, cited in a newsletter this week by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, was released last year by the American Association of University Women and shows females earning 78 cents for every dollar a man is paid, based on 2011 figures.

"Studies of this type are bound to have a variance; the main thing is that no gap should exist at all, when people are equally qualified and equally experienced," said Christine Palm, director of communications for the commission, in an email.

In a single year alone, the wage gap statewide between men and women amounts to more than $13,000, according to one study. Women from the 2nd Congressional District in Connecticut are facing an even wider gap of about $15,000, another study said.

Hispanic and African-American women have an even more striking gap between their pay and the earnings of men.

The gender gap is often explained away by citing such factors as women's choice of occupation and time off during their childbearing years. But studies cited by the governor's office indicated such factors account for only a bit less than half the differences in pay between the sexes, with 40 percent of the gap being the result of discrimination.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the largest statewide group representing the business community, said it didn't know much about the study.

"We will be following it closely," said Eric Gjede, assistant counsel for CBIA.

l.howard@theday.com

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