Alabama launched a task force in August to close the gender-based wage gap in the Yellowhammer state. At 67 cents to the dollar, Alabama is one of the lowest contributors to the 82-cent national average, according to the Women’s Foundation of Alabama’s Vice President of External Affairs Rachael Bunning.
“At the current rate of change, women in Alabama will not reach pay equity until 2089,” Bunning said.
The Workforce and Wage Gap Task Force will meet monthly until Dec. 31, 2022, when it will make policy recommendations to state lawmakers. Future meetings will discuss specific policies.
A report produced by the Women’s Foundation of Alabama in 2022 provides insight into the goals of the task force.
The report states that Alabama needs to employ two strategies to close the wage gap, increasing women’s participation in the workforce and ending occupational segregation.
Both the first meeting of the task force and the report emphasized the dramatic economic benefits of closing the wage gap.
“If we closed the gender pay gap for all women – white, black, and brown included –Alabama would see almost 59,000 new jobs created, $15 billion in new income spent in businesses across the state and the state’s overall economy (GDP) would grow by almost $22 billion (a nine percent growth rate),” according to the report.
Additionally, the task force identified systemic barriers to entry into the labor force for women.
“We know that the wage gap is also intricately tied to women’s labor force participation,” Bunning said. “Task force members also identified other issues they’re interested in learning about to address this, from childcare to the minimum wage to the state’s workforce training program.”
The task force was created in spring 2022 by House Joint Resolution 115. Sponsored by state Rep. Adline Clarke D-District 97, HJR 115 is one of several historic steps state lawmakers have recently made.
In 2019, Alabama became the 49th state to pass an equal pay law called the Clarke-Figures Equal Pay Act (also sponsored by Rep. Clarke), which prohibits pay discrimination for work that “requires equal skill, effort, education, experience, and responsibility,” based on sex or race.
In 2021, Alabama provided state funds to the Maternal Mortality Review Committee. Initially established in 2018 by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the MMRC reviews data concerning maternal deaths during pregnancy and within one year of birth. The data is then analyzed to identify prevention solutions.
In addition to the wage gap task force, Alabama provided funds to extend Medicaid benefits to new mothers in spring 2022. The extension will increase the duration of benefits from 60 days to 12 months in a state where nearly half of all births receive Medicaid funds.
Women aren’t the only beneficiaries of pay equity. According to the Women's Foundation report, simply increasing women’s participation in the workforce by 10% increases all wages by 5%. This increase adds $2,600 in annual median income to households across the state.
“When women are participating more in the workforce, when they are more active in that way, it benefits everyone," Bunning said. "It benefits the whole community. It benefits families. It benefits you individually."
Auburn University established a legacy of supporting women’s rights in 1892, when it became the first college in Alabama to accept women. That year, three women, Willie Little, Katherine Broun and Margaret Teague, were accepted into Auburn's predecessor, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, because of the work of Julia Tutwiler. Tutwiler, sometimes called "the mother of co-education in Alabama," was an education and prison reform advocate until her death in 1916.
Auburn established a state-wide standard, but it is still responsible for ensuring everyone can count only on what they earn, regardless of gender or race.
“Universities are an employer, so they need to think of this through the lens of pay equity,” Bunning said.
All task force meetings are open to the public, and attendance is highly encouraged. Over the next four months, meetings will craft the specific policy recommendations that will close the wage gap in Alabama. However, Dec. 31 is just the beginning. After that, the proposals drafted by the task force will be submitted to the legislature, “and then comes the fun part,” Bunning said.
The Alabama Workforce and Wage Gap Task Force will hold its second meeting on Monday, Sept. 26th from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. The meeting will take place virtually and is open to the public.
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Ethan Flynn, freshman in journalism and finance, is a news writer at The Plainsman.