This is a guest post from Michigan Summit Director Chong-Anna Canfora.

Today, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, is the national observance of Equal Pay Day, the day when women and men around the country recognize the wage gap between working women and men, and offer remedies to address pay inequity. According to statistics released in 2011 by the United States Census Bureau, women are paid, on average, 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid — a gap of 23 cents.

It’s shameful, but here in Michigan women’s pay doesn’t even measure up to the national average. We are paid just 74 cents for every dollar of men’s pay. Women and our families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

In 2011, members of the Michigan House and Senate introduced a package of legislation that would address this inequity. Now is the time for the Legislature to take action on these bills.

In addition to passing legislation in Michigan, here are four ways to close the pay gap:

First, we need to keep affirmative action programs in place to make sure education, jobs and promotion opportunities are open and offered to qualified women.

Second, employers must examine and correct their pay practices. Employers can get help in examining their pay practices through equal pay self-audit guidelines from the US Department of Labor.

Third, women must stand up for equal pay and for themselves. If a prospective employer cannot show that women and men are paid equally for the job you’re seeking, it makes sense to look elsewhere. Positive signs include a hiring process that seeks diversity through affirmative action, written pay and benefit policies, job descriptions and evaluation procedures. A union for workers is another good sign. Women in unions earn 35% more than women in non-union workplaces.

Women who are paid less than men must discuss the problem with their employer. If there’s a union ask their help. If discrimination persists, file a complaint with the local or state (name of agency for your city or state if possible) fair employment agencies or with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A fourth way to close the pay gap is through federal legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act. That’s not a solution popular with employers, but it may be necessary. For employers who continue to pay women less, legal penalties or EEOC action may be the only remedies.

Pay equity is a growing national movement. States around the country are introducing pay equity legislation and women continue to recognize the importance of this legislation. Pay inequity penalizes families especially during times of economic hardship so we must address it when trying to boost the economy. At the rate we are going, the wage gap will not close for another 50 years. Women and their families cannot afford to wait that long!

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