On Pay and Equality


On Pay and Equality
Joyce Elliott

We don’t really know whether Arkansas is ready for the Equal Rights Amendment, but our General Assembly clearly isn’t. When state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, introduced a resolution to add Arkansas to the list of states that have ratified the ERA since 1972, she couldn’t get even a second in the Senate Committee on State Agencies & Governmental Affairs.

Just because legislators aren’t ready for a change doesn’t mean their constituents aren’t. Notable case in point: the higher minimum wage that Arkansas voters approved overwhelmingly (68.5 percent) in November. There are legislators who don’t want to live with decisions made by the people the way the people have to live with the decisions made by elected officials.

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“[T]his is an act of the will of the people of Arkansas, and I do not believe it should be changed by a legislative act,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson told the Political Animals Club in Little Rock last week, a sentiment with which the Republican Party of Arkansas agreed.

Pricing is perhaps the trickiest of all business decisions, and pricing labor is trickiest of all since it ripples through a business and then through the economy and the tax base, often with unintended consequences.

While our Legislature is worrying about paying the lowest-income workers more, some parts of the country are passing legislation that requires equal pay regardless of the gender of the worker, something as hard to imagine the Arkansas Legislature approving as the ERA. But perhaps something that Cincinnati recently adopted is within reach: legislation that bans companies from asking about salary history, a practice that tends to keep women’s wages lower. What someone has earned in the past is no reflection on how valuable his or her labor is to a new employer.