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Feds to collect equal pay data from all big employers

Obama has ordered expansion of program aimed at federal contractors to include all businesses with 100 or more employees

The Obama administration is expanding a data collection program aimed at ferreting out abuses of equal pay laws.

President Barack Obama in 2014 directed the Labor Department to collect data from federal contractors about what they pay employees, sorted by gender, race and ethnicity.

His new proposal will cover all businesses with 100 or more employees, regardless of whether they contract with the government. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will collect the data.

The government will use the data to help identify companies that should be investigated for failing to pay workers fairly. The first reports from companies will be due in September 2017.

The administration estimates the new requirements will cost less than $400 per employer the first year and a few hundred dollars per year after that.

More than 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was made law, women still earn less then men. On average, women earn only about 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. African-American women and Latinas take home even less, just 64 cents and 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by white men, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). Obama has called the numbers “embarrassing,” and “wrong.”

The first measure Obama signed into law as president was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, named after a nearly retired product supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama who took her case of unequal pay to the Supreme Court in 1998, and made it easier for women to sue employers for discriminatory wage practices, introducing a 180-day window after each paycheck during which women may challenge employers.

The wage disparity between male and female employees begins soon after entering the world of work. One year after graduation, women earn 7 percent less than men. Differences in hours, occupation, sector, college major and other factors do not fully account for the difference in pay, according to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). About one-third of the pay gap remains unexplained, and the researchers ascribed that differential to gender discrimination.

College debt disproportionately affects women because of their lower incomes. They face an additional hurdle if they ask for more money — something many managers see as unseemly for women. The median borrower has an outstanding balance of approximately $15,000, according to the New York Federal Reserve.

A record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are the sole or primary source of income for the family. Single mothers, with a median annual income of $23,000, make up the majority of this group.  And in an economy that increasingly relies on temporary labor and contracted workers, raising the minimum wage would automatically lift some women out of poverty, equal-pay advocates say.

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press


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