A coalition of female state lawmakers, women’s and workers’ rights groups say they will push to close the gender pay gap in South Carolina once and for all during this year’s legislative session.
State Rep. Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, and state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, plan to introduce a pay-equity act Tuesday to, they say, give employers and employees the tools to prevent wage discrimination.
Brawley was joined at a State House news conference Monday about the legislation by representatives of AARP of South Carolina, the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, the S.C. American Association of University Women, former S.C. first lady Rachel Hodges and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
“It’s time for this legislation. It’s more than time,” Brawley said. “Women more often are the bread-earners in their families ... and for them not to be compensated at the level that their male counterparts are, it’s unacceptable. ... This is an issue of fundamental fairness.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Shealy, who was unable to attend Monday’s news conference, added in a statement, “We all deserve to be paid fairly for the value we bring to the workplace.”
South Carolina is one of four states that does not have an equal-pay law. But it has a general employment discrimination law that includes a prohibition on wage discrimination, based on sex. That law applies to public and private employers with 15 or more employees.
Across the United States, women earn about 79 cents for every dollar that men make, compared to 73 cents in South Carolina, according to a 2017 study from the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.
For women of color, the gap is even wider. They earn 53 cents for every dollar earned by white men, according to the USC report.
S.C. women who worked full time in 2015 are estimated to have earned about $15,800 less a year than S.C. men, after controlling for differences in race, occupation, national origin, moving status and age. The estimate, however, does not factor in job experience and tenure, due to a lack of available data.
Other studies paint a more nuanced picture, arguing wage discrimination is a much smaller factor in pay disparities. Instead, those studies say, women tend to work in lower-earning fields, work fewer hours and take time off to raise families.
Still, the wage gap cannot only be explained by making different career choices, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Though women are overrepresented in low-wage and underrepresented in high-wage occupations, women in both groups make less than men, according to the center.
That means less money for women to feed their families, pay off student loans and save for retirement. It also leads to workplace dissatisfaction, low morale and higher turnover, supporters said.
WREN Chief Executive Ann Warner said a “robust” pay-equity law would help provide more economic stability and mobility for S.C. families.
“Pay equity is not just a women’s issue,” Warner said. “It is also a family, community and economic viability issue for South Carolina.”
The Brawley-Shealy proposal would require employees be paid based on factors including skill, effort and responsibility, and would ban the use of salary history.
“Research shows that asking for prior wage history can lead to an employee with equal or superior qualifications making less than a co-worker doing the same job, simply because they happened to make less in their prior position,” Warner said.
The proposal also seeks to promote pay transparency by asking employers to provide a wage range to job applicants or those applying for a promotion.
While federal law prohibits wage discrimination based on sex, the bill would expand protections for S.C. women and close loopholes, such as preventing pay discrimination from following a woman throughout her career, said Ashley Lidow, associate director of policy and government relations for WREN.
The bill, too, would clarify any pay disparities between men and women must be justified by one or more specific business factors, Lidow said.
Similar bills have been pushed in recent years only to stall in committee as other issues dominated the legislative session.
Brawley and supporters, though, say they’re optimistic there will be greater appetite this session to pass pay equity, citing support from a broad, bipartisan cross-section of working women.
“This should be right at the top of our agenda, along with education,” Brawley said. “This is a family-values issue.”
House Judiciary Committee chairman Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, whose committee would likely take up the bill, could not be reached for comment Monday.