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Time to tackle gender wage gap in Mississippi

It’s encouraging to see bipartisan effort in this year’s legislative session when it comes to tackling Mississippi’s gender wage gap problem. In the first week of the session, Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, filed a bill supporting equal pay for equal work, and Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, said Tuesday she’s filing a similar bill this week with a caveat that allows employees to discuss their wages to further the effort in stopping gender discrimination.

There are several reasons why gender-based pay disparity is a topic that doesn’t often get the attention it deserves, but it’s hard to ignore the numbers: Women in Mississippi earn 27 percent less than men compared to the national average of 20 percent, according to a paper recently published by the University Research Center in Jackson.

Median annual pay is $31,465 for a Mississippi woman with a full-time job; for men, it’s $40,850. When you take into consideration the nearly 80,000 households in Mississippi headed by women who live below the poverty line, the disparity is even harder to ignore, particularly in a state with the highest poverty rate in the country. The gap seems to widen even more for black and Hispanic women, who earn 56 and 54 cents, respectively, to every dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic man.

Republican State Treasurer Lynn Fitch has spoken out about how critical it is that Mississippi’s lawmakers work together to find a solution for eliminating gender-based discrimination in the workplace and encourage women to pursue careers based on interest and ability and not on social norms that unfairly dictate which fields are meant for men and women. Gov. Phil Bryant has also put support behind the effort, saying he “unequivocally” supports equal pay.

Over the last five years, women have accounted for 60 percent of  degrees earned at Mississippi’s public universities, according to Fitch.

Is Mississippi doing all it can to retain them? More importantly, could anyone blame them for seeing the writing on the wall (or in this case, the paycheck) and finding better opportunities elsewhere?

No. And that’s why lawmakers should do all they can to ensure the pay disparity is confronted and remedied as soon as possible.

alex mcdaniel is editor of the Oxford Eagle.
Contact her at alex.mcdaniel@oxfordeagle.com