Closing The Gap

This map shows which US states make it easiest to pay women less than men—and which states are enacting change

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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 receive equal pay for equal work, but women are still fighting for compensation equality.

Some progress has been made toward those efforts in the U.S. — though it varies by state. 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 — but some have not.

This map, created by labor and employment-focused law firm Fisher Phillips, highlights legislative differences between states by showing which ones have gender-specific pay protections, gender-specific protections as well as protections for other categories (such as race, religion or national origin), or no state-specific pay equity laws at all.

Click to enlarge. Interactive version available here.

"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.

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.

As it shows, in states like Arizona and Florida, laws are fewer or weaker. 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 that can negate an employer's liability. And, the AAUW reports, "many counties and cities have additional regulations, separate from both state and federal laws." So legislation can depend on geography.

On a national scale, the pay disparity is still a persistent issue. And while the Equal Pay Act 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."

Highest-paying jobs for women
Highest-paying jobs for women

On average, women are paid 20 percent less than men. In 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 enacted robust pay equality statutes," Caminiti says, "and we expect more legislation on the horizon."

Leaders like Sheryl Sandberg 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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This is an update of a previously published story.

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