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Spit-Shining the Glass Ceiling

Mississippi state legislators don’t shatter glass ceilings like a Braves-style slugger. They spit-shine it. 

Last October, Mississippi Today reported that women working full-time make as much as 27 percent less than their male counterparts, far exceeding the 19 percent national average. This gap overlooks the fact that women comprise about half of Mississippi’s population and workforce. They also make up 60 percent of the workforce living below the poverty line and are the primary breadwinners for 53.5 percent of families. 

When Rep. Angela Cockerham, I-Magnolia, introduced H.B. 770, Mississippians were pleased to learn the state could stop being the last in the nation to enact an equal pay measure. Sadly, the document itself contains conditions that would further alienate the state’s minority women. 

Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable leader Cassandra Welchin warned that H.B. 770 would worsen the gender wage gap. 

“It is definitely the opposite of an equal-pay bill in that it rubber stamps an employer’s decision to pay women less for equal work than a man because of her salary history,” Welchlin told reporters.  

In addition to allowing employers to base an employee’s salary on “the salary history or continuity of employment demonstrated by an employee,” H.B. 770 lets an employer use a “seniority” or “merit system” or “any other factor other than sex.” Nonpartisan policy institute the Center for American Progress called any measure taking salary history into account “a textbook example of structural bias” because “salary history … relies on false assumptions and biases about the relationships among salary, worker value, and market value.” The language in the Mississippi bill inserts every bit of wiggle room shy of employers outright admitting they hate women. 

Welchin said the Senate’s equivalent bill, S.B. 2451, contains similar backwards provisions. In fact, in spite of her support of closing the gender wage gap, Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point voted against the Senate’s equal pay measure because it “requir[ed] too much specificity from employees filing a suit.” Others believed it would be “unbelievably hard” for employees to challenge their employers based on the “requirements laid out in the bill.” 

Both H.B. 770 and S.B. 2451 now await approval from the opposite body and may still be amended before final passage. 

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