Public focus required to correct Louisiana’s 66 percent gender wage gap

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

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In this age of assumed gender equality, the wage disparity between men and women has been dismissed from popular discussion. Disregarding the gap between women of color (much less transgender women) and white men, the national average disparity between white women and white men is approximately 79 percent. In Louisiana, that number is even lower, where women are only paid 66 cents to a man’s dollar. This wage gap cannot be ignored. In a society where more women are pursuing higher education and single mothers continue to be stigmatized, this dismissal of women’s labor is nothing short of a national concern.

Louisiana has the worst wage disparity in the country. Only public employees, approximately 17 percent of the population, receive equal pay protection. Outside of that, in all other sectors, a lack of employer transparency and weak relevant legal procedures leave female workers by the wayside.

The usual explanation for the gap is that women are more likely to take maternity leave than men are to take paternity leave or that women are unable to do higher-paying labor-intensive jobs. There is also the idea that women prefer to major in lower-paying liberal arts fields, which typically pay less after graduation.

Controlling for all of these factors, however, there is still a distinct difference in wages. Even with the same number of hours, same relative education, and same career path, on average women are paid less. According to a report released by the American Association of University Women, gender discrimination in science, technology, engineering and technology fields, employer reaction to salary negotiation and student loan debt are some possible explanations for this wage disparity. But these factors are difficult to measure, therefore difficult to correct.

Certain organizations are dedicated to drawing attention to this issue. The idea is that if more people are aware of the disparity, there will be a stronger voice calling for change from state governments and then federal governments. One such organization is LessThan100, a pop-up market that tours the country annually.

Since Nov. 3, LessThan100 has been setting up shop in New Orleans. Located near O.C.H. Art Market, the market offers ceramics, textiles, art prints, literature and a number of other goods made by women. The catch is that while male shoppers pay full price for these items, women only pay 66 percent of the value. “Pay what you’re paid,” is the slogan that LessThan100 goes by, adjusting the market’s prices to the local gap (76 percent in Pittsburg, their last location).

Regardless of if you believe the wage gap isn’t as bad as claimed, or that women’s choices are the determining factor in its existence, it is impossible to deny that it exists. The United States claims to be the most equal country in the world, where regardless of race or gender, anyone can make their way. Until this disparity is corrected, that claim will not be true. And right now, Louisiana needs all the help it can get.