Arkansas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross last week laid out a proposal to strengthen the state’s laws protecting women against gender discrimination in the workplace. Ross outlined a series of policy objectives called the “Fair Pay and Equal Opportunity Plan.”
“Women in Arkansas are paid [77 cents] for every dollar men earn, and we are ranked 35th in the U.S. in terms of gender pay equity. That’s unacceptable because I want my daughter to have the same opportunities to succeed as my son, and I want the same for every Arkansan across this state,” Ross said.
A report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that women in Arkansas make more than $9,000 less in annual salary than their male counterparts.
The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) issued a report last year with nearly identical findings. The NWLC report also looked at racial disparities in the gender pay gap. The report found Black women in the state made only 66 cents for every dollar their male counterparts made, and Latina women made 52 cents for every dollar a male earned.
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Arkansas loses about $2.6 billion every year due to the wage gap, according to a report by the National Partnership for Women and Families.
The gender pay gap varies widely from state to state, but there are some indicators that have shown to be predictive in which states have the largeest pay gaps. One of those indicators is the number of women holding public office, of which Arkansas has among the fewest in the nation. There are currently no women serving in the state’s congressional delegation, no women in state-wide elected office. Just 17 percent of the state’s legislators are women.
Ross said his plan includes several key objectives that will strengthen the state’s equal pay laws.
These include protecting employees against retaliatory actions for discussing possible gender-based wage discrimination in the workplace and publishing an annual report about pay inequity in the workplace to measure Arkansas’s progress and recommend ways to accelerate that progress.
“These are simple and straightforward, yet powerful steps that can be taken to help guarantee equal pay for equal work in Arkansas,” Ross said. “My plan will help ensure fair pay and equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace for both men and women in Arkansas. I believe it is past time for Arkansas to become more than just the Land of Opportunity—we must be the Land of Equal Opportunity.”
Ross’ Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson said in an email to the Arkansas News that he supports equal pay.
“I fully support fair pay that is based on qualifications and ability, and there is no place for unfair treatment of employees based on sex,” Hutchinson said. “I hope this is something we can all agree on, especially because I have a daughter and granddaughter, and I want them to have the same opportunities as my sons and grandsons.”
Fifty-eight percent of self-identified Republican voters said in a recent Gallup poll that equal pay for women was an important issue, while 87 percent of Democrats said addressing the pay gap was important.