SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Obama made news when he proposed a new rule aimed at closing the gender pay gap. That was last week. The bill has gone nowhere in Congress. But across the country, a different story In two dozen states, lawmakers are now debating a variety of proposals. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Emily Martin keeps a state-by-state map of the wage gap for the National Women's Law Center. She calculates it's smallest in Washington, D.C., where women average nearly 90 cents to a man's dollar. At the other end, Louisiana, where they earn just 65 cents. Though everywhere the gap for black and Hispanic women is even wider. There are lots of reasons for the gender gap. But Martin says a stubborn small part is still discrimination.
EMILY MARTIN: There's really disturbing social science studies out there that show that supervisors, male and female alike, without realizing it, will recommend lower salaries for women with equivalent qualifications to men.
LUDDEN: States are trying to combat that unconscious bias in all kinds of ways. At least five have banned companies from retaliating if workers talk about their pay and compare notes. Others have made it easier for workers to sue over pay or harder for companies to justify paying men more because of - this is the legal term - a factor other than sex. Martin says other proposals would ban asking job applicants about their pay history.
MARTIN: Because often your pay is set with some reference to how much you made at your last job. The impact of pay discrimination can follow people through their careers.
LUDDEN: Another trend - moving beyond equal pay simply for the exact same job title. Nick Rathod heads the State Innovation Exchange, a network of progressive lawmakers. He says new laws require companies to offer similar paid for substantially similar jobs - say, housekeepers and janitors.
NICK RATHOD: They'll do worker-based evaluation on things like their skill, their effort, their experience - that type of thing.
LUDDEN: It is mostly Democrats proposing these measures. Though Rathod says an equal pay bill recently passed the Massachusetts Senate unanimously with the support of the local Chamber of Commerce.
RATHOD: It is a bipartisan issue. And, you know, I think it's hard to be on the side of arguing that mothers and daughters should be paid less than men.
LOREN FURMAN: When we look at each one of these bills, I'm not sure if they're accomplishing the end goal.
LUDDEN: Loren Furman is with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. I caught her on her cell phone at the state capitol, where she'd been talking with lawmakers about three pay equity proposals. Furman finds it all redundant.
FURMAN: We have a state wage act. We have an anti-discrimination act. We have the federal NRRB act.
LUDDEN: She says companies worry more laws could mean more lawsuits. Furman says they also oppose a Colorado measure that would ban them from asking job candidates up front about their pay history. Employers tell her, how else can they know who's serious about a job and who may just need something for now?
FURMAN: The worst thing for an employer is to hire somebody and then lose that person because they ultimately wanted $100,000.
LUDDEN: Whatever laws are enacted, states will be looking to see if they have any impact on the gender pay gap that's hardly budged for a decade. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.