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Yvonne Prettner Solon: Minnesota women still face wage disparities

Thirty years ago, I was single mom – raising my two kids and working full-time as a psychologist. And as any parent knows, raising two kids can be a full-time job on its own. And as I learned, parenting on a single income is even more challenging. But what made it even more difficult was being paid 30 percent less than a male colleague who had less training and experience. I discovered the pay inequality and was able to successfully advocate for the compensation I had earned. Unfortunately, most women experiencing pay inequality are not that lucky.

Even several decades later, wage disparities still exist in our state. Minnesota women currently only make 80 percent of what their male colleagues earn for comparable work. And for African-American, American Indian, and Latinas it is much worse – they earn only 57 to 62 percent of what their white male colleagues currently make. This is not much better than the 1950s, when a woman could expect to make 40 percent less than a man.

In the past, Minnesota implemented reforms that dramatically reduced the wage disparity among public employees. When the Minnesota State Employee Pay Equity Act was passed in 1982, female employees only made 72 percent of what their male colleagues took home. By 2006, female employees were making 97 percent of what male employees earned. This same dramatic success also has been replicated at the local level.

In 2013, 99 percent of Minnesota’s local governments were in compliance with the Local Government Pay Equity Act. Between these two initiatives, the state of Minnesota has developed significant experience implementing and ensuring pay equity. To build on these past efforts, I am urging support for the State Contractors Pay Equity Bill (HF 2373/SF 1806). The legislation sponsored by Rep. Rena Moran and Sen. Sandy Pappas would require contractors doing business with the state of Minnesota to meet similar pay equity requirements.

This legislation will build on Minnesota’s past success reducing pay inequity by asking those who are doing business with the state to pay their employees fairly. With 85 percent of Minnesotans working in the private sector, this legislation will help address pay inequity – to the benefit of women and families.

It is time we stop cutting Minnesota families short. I can tell you with firsthand experience that women and families in every corner of our state from Marshall to Moorhead and International Falls to Albert Lea will benefit from wage equality.

Implementing measures that help ensure that Minnesota’s women get paid equitably does not simply benefit them. It benefits their entire family, which is able to enjoy greater financial stability and opportunity. That is why I urge all Minnesotans to support the State Contractors Pay Equity Bill and other legislation that helps close the wage gap that tragically persists in our state.