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When President John F. Kennedy approved the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the average female employee earned only 60 percent of the average wage for men, and he acknowledged that the United States had a long journey ahead to close that gap. “While much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity,” Kennedy said in his remarks, “this legislation is a significant step forward.”

More than five decades later, we’re still stepping.

The median earnings for women nationally are 78 percent of men’s, a gap of 22 percent. The gap widens for women of color; on average African American women are paid 64 cents and Latinas are paid 54 cents to every dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic man, according to statistics from the U.S. bureau of labor.  

Things are a few cents better in Massachusetts, where women on average earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes… but that’s an 18 percent different, not the pay equity Kennedy promised in 1963.

This week, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill that would ensure men and women earn equal pay for comparable work. The bill emphasizes equal compensation for equal work, meaning that jobs requiring similar skills, effort and responsibility would be compensated fairly. The bill would measure earnings on a merit-based system, and allow all employees to view the salaries of their colleagues. “We can’t afford another 50 years to get the daughters who are being raised in Massachusetts now to be able to get fair pay when [they] go into the workforce,” Senate President Stan Rosenberg said in an interview with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio.

“This is in an incremental change in the current law, which basically creates more disclosure so people will have information to be able to make judgements,” Rosenberg said,  “which then allows them to sit with their employer and say, gee, I’m working just as hard, I’ve brought just as much to the table ...why is my colleague making $15 an hour more than I am?”

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce supports the bill, in contrast with handful of other business groups who oppose it, including Associated Industries of Massachusetts, The Massachusetts High Technology Council, and AIM, all who have expressed hesitation to jump on the pay equity bandwagon. “Anybody who wants to sit down and talk about the details, we can talk about the details,” Rosenberg said. “The principle is the point, here, and the principle is: equal pay for equal work. Gender should not determine what you get paid. The quality of your work, the capacity that you bring to the table, your labor is of equal value to the person next to you, without regard to gender.”

The bill now heads to the House.

To hear Senate President Stan Rosenberg's full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.