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Mississippi set to become last U.S. state with an equal pay law

Wage gap robs women of millions of dollars
Equal Pay Day: Wage gap robs women of millions of dollars 07:07

Mississippi will become the final state with a law requiring equal pay for equal work by women and men. The law will become effective on July 1. 

A 1963 federal law requires equal pay for equal work, but Mississippi has the only state without its own law since Alabama enacted one in 2019. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, signed House Bill 770 on Wednesday. 

Other states have enacted laws that require equal pay regardless of gender, while some states have put in place laws that laws ban companies from asking about salary history, which can lock women into lower-paying employment. Despite the progress, women still on average earn slightly more than 80 cents for every $1 earned by men — a gap that means women are less prepared for retirement and are more likely to live in poverty than men. 

The gap is even worse in Mississippi, with a 2017 report by the Mississippi University Research Center showing women in the state earned 27% less than men for full-time work, compared to a 19% wage gap nationwide. 

The new Mississippi law says a lawsuit must be filed within two years of when a worker "knew or should have known" about pay discrepancies.

If the pay discrimination lawsuit is successful, the employer would have to increase wages of the lower-paid worker rather than decrease wages of the higher-paid one, said House Judiciary A Committee Chairwoman Angela Cockerham, an independent from Magnolia who pushed for the legislation.

Critic: Law could be "harmful"

The law says businesses with at least five employees must pay equal wages to women and men who work full-time jobs that require "equal skill, education, effort and responsibility" and that are done "under similar working conditions."

Several exceptions are allowed, including seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production and "any factor other than sex," including salary history and whether there was competition to hire an employee.

Cassandra Welchlin, leader of the Mississippi Black Women's Roundtable, advocates for equal pay but said the new law is "harmful" because it would allow an employer to pay a woman less than a man based on the pay history that workers bring into new jobs.

The Mississippi University Research Center study said some of the state's gender pay gap could be explained by the types of jobs women and men were working, but the unexplained wage gap remained about 18% in Mississippi and about 15% nationwide.

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