SC’s female workers are paid less than men
13 percent of SC legislators are women
Seven years after President Barack Obama signed legislation that makes it easier for women to challenge discriminatory pay in court, South Carolina remains one of only four states without equal pay protections.
Friday marked the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the first law Obama signed after taking office. Ledbetter, a former Goodyear Tire employee from Alabama, gained national attention after she sued the company because she made less than her male counterparts for doing the same work.
“A fair amount of South Carolinians would be surprised to find out that their state has no equal pay laws – it’s not in great company,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the nonprofit advocacy American Association of University Women. The other states are Alabama, Mississippi and Utah, although the latter introduced legislation this month.
Many Republicans argue that these equal pay laws result only in extra fees for trial lawyers and nuisance lawsuits while possibly hurting small businesses.
Women in South Carolina make 80 cents for every dollar that similarly employed men make, and the yearly wage gap between women and men with full-time jobs is $8,272, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
For women of color, the gap is even wider. African-American women make 57 cents for every dollar a white man makes in South Carolina, and Hispanic women 48 cents.
Equal-pay advocates say lack of awareness and transparency is keeping women from galvanizing around the issue.
“There’s a culture of secrecy about wages, and some employers have taken steps so that employees can specifically not talk about their pay, so when that information lies in the hands of employers, it’s extremely difficult,” said Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president of program at the National Women’s Law Center.
The biggest challenge is getting people to recognize that the gender wage gap is still a problem in South Carolina, groups in the state say.
“I don’t really hear about it unless I bring it up,” said South Carolina AAUW President Carol Tempel, adding that women often tell her they don’t see the wage gap as a real problem and prefer to organize around higher profile issues such as domestic violence and the minimum wage.
At the same time, when speaking with women across the state, Tempel said she often heard stories about seeing less qualified male colleagues getting promotions and better jobs and thinking, “I was waiting to be asked.”
“It’s not a characteristic of Southern women to be very assertive in this way, so I think that part is playing into it,” she said.
Women hold only 13.5 percent of seats in the South Carolina legislature, the third lowest representation in the country.
To be sure, it isn’t only women pushing for change. South Carolina Democrats have introduced legislation, such as House Bill 3253 by Charleston Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, which has been stalled for more than a year.
The bill would make it illegal for a state agency to “discriminate against an employee on the basis of gender” by paying a woman less than a man for the same work. The bill would still allow employees to be paid extra according to their level of education, seniority or job performance.
“It’s a good step in the right direction, because quite frankly South Carolina needs to get with the program,” Maatz said. “This is not rocket science.”
The Obama administration on Friday proposed new rules that would require companies with more than 100 employees to send the federal government annual data on how much they pay employees broken down by gender, race and ethnicity. This information would help public enforcement of equal pay laws and would cover 63 million employees, the White House said.