The City and County of Honolulu declared April 12 “Equal Pay Day,” because that’s when women’s earnings finally catch up to men’s earnings from last year.
Rep. Della Au Belatti, D, Makiki, Tantalus, says the wage gap in Hawaii is a little better than other states, putting us third in the nation. Nationally, women earn around 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
According to statistics from the National Partnership for Women and Families and Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Hawaii women earn 86 cents to a man’s dollar.
“It still means 14 cents that are deficient,” said Belatti.
Professor Linda Lierheimer, who teaches women’s studies at Hawaii Pacific University, says “most students don’t even know about the gender wage gap. They don’t realize women in particular, they think all the discrimination and pay in equality is the thing of the past, and it’s not.”
Women in Hawaii with full-time jobs lose a combined total of $1.6 billion every year due to the wage gap, and 55,569 family households in Hawaii headed by women. Twenty-two percent of those families have income that fall below poverty level.
Rep. Cindy Evans, D, North Kona, and Belatti say they’re working on bridging the gender wage gap.
“I’ve been fighting this battle since the ’80s. I had to fight to get equal pay when I was a professional state agent for the government,” said Evans.
“Women believe people will notice them and notice they’re dedicated and good workers,” she continued. “Women don’t have a tendency to speak up and say ‘I’m asking for a raise because I’ve earned it.’ Women have a tendency not to do that. In my experience in the workforce, men don’t hesitate to ask.”
Several bills were introduced over the years for equal pay in Hawaii. None have made it.
“Why do you think it’s constantly failing in the legislature?” KHON2 asked Belatti.
“I think it fails because there are stakeholders who are concerned. If we ensure people can litigate under equal pay statutes, it will drive up the cost of business. We have to bring them along to understand what we’re doing is improving the workforce, to ensure you will have better workers if we have equal pay,” she replied.
Belatti says her last bill failed this session, but it’s made it farther than any other past bill on equal pay.
“It’s important, as leaders, to raise awareness, to force the conversation in many ways in the Legislature,” she said. “We have such hard-working families. We’re all just trying to make it. They’re just so happy to have a job. We have to raise the level, the discussion, and the standards.”
Research shows if change continues at its current pace, the wage gap will not close until 2059.