Closing The Gap

This map shows which US states make it easiest to pay women less than men

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It's been more than 50 years since the U.S. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, which mandates that men and women be given equal pay for equal work, and the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

But while efforts have been made to ensure equal rights and salaries in workplaces across the United States, not every state has made equal progress. Tepid penalties and loopholes tend to dampen the effectiveness of federal laws on a local level, so many states have passed versions of their own laws — and some have not.

A new interactive map, created by law firm Fisher Phillips, which specializes in labor and employment issues, highlights legislative differences between states by showing which ones have gender-specific pay protections, gender-specific protections as well as protections for other categories, or no state-specific pay equity laws at all.

Click to enlarge.

"Given the ever-changing legal landscape, we wanted to provide a place for companies and their counsel to readily access the relevant pay equity laws," Kathleen Caminiti, co-chair of the Pay Equity Practice Group and a partner at the firm, says in a news release.

Caminiti points out that the map is "not a substitute for legal counsel because the laws are very nuanced," depending on the state.

For instance, as the American Association of University Women notes in its Policy Guide to Equal Pay in the States, pay equity laws are robust and wide-ranging in states like California and Delaware. Employers there are prohibited even from asking a candidate's previous salary history, which some believe could have adverse effects on income.

Other states, like Arizona and Florida, have fewer or weaker pay equity laws. Alabama and Mississippi have no equal pay laws whatsoever, while the laws in North Carolina are minimal, according to the AAUW.

But even in states that do implement pay equity laws, there are exceptions, including affirmative defenses. And, the AAUW reports, "many counties and cities have additional regulations, separate from both state and federal laws." So legislation can depend on geography.

Highest-paying jobs for women

On a national scale, the pay disparity still appears to be a persistent issue in the United States. And while the EPA aims to eliminate the gap, its "vague language makes it difficult for women to prove they were paid less than a male counterpart because of their gender and deters many from even filing a lawsuit," reports Bustle.

"The act allows for men to be paid a higher wage than their female counterparts on the basis of seniority, merit, productivity, and a differential based on any other factor other than sex."

On average, women are paid 20 percent less than men. In popular industries like tech, women are offered lower starting salaries than their male counterparts for the same job at the same company 63 percent of the time and, on average, white men are offered higher salaries than women and than their peers of color.

Activists and legislators are trying to call attention to and reverse these trends, and some progress has already been documented on the local level: "A number of states have already enacted robust pay equality statutes," Caminiti says, "and we expect more legislation on the horizon."

Leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, and California Senator Kamala Harris are ramping up their efforts against pay inequity, while businesses like Fisher Phillips are following suit.

And as Don Schroeder, a partner at the law firm Foley and Lardner, tells CNBC Make It, by performing regular pay equity audits, employers, at some point, will "likely close the pay gap."

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