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National News

Biden administration tackles gender pay gap issues for federal workers

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The White House is taking action to address pay disparities that affect hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Oliver Willis

On Tuesday, in conjunction with Equal Pay Day, the White House announced the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will propose regulations aimed at banning the use of prior salary history in the process of hiring and pay-setting for federal employees — a move that equal pay advocates say could help close the pay gap for historically underpaid workers.

“Banning the use of prior salary history can help break the cycle of past arbitrary and potentially discriminatory pay that can follow women and workers of color from job to job, entrenching gender and racial pay gaps over time,” the White House said in a statement on Tuesday.

Equal pay advocates see restricting the use of previous salary history to set current wages as a way to advance pay equity for workers who have historically been underpaid due to discrimination. According to a March 2021 report from the Center for American Progress, employers using previous pay to set current wages “can result in wage disparities and pay discrimination for women and workers of color.”

The policy announcement was a follow-up to the June 2021 executive order Biden signed establishing “a government-wide initiative to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all parts of the Federal workforce.”

“My Administration is committed to closing the gender pay gap ensuring that all Americans have a fair and equal opportunity to get ahead,” President Joe Biden tweeted on Tuesday.

In the United States, women currently earn an average of 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Nearly 900,000 women are employed by the U.S. government, comprising 44% of the federal workforce, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Past pay histories can include previous decisions influenced by gender and race, allowing future salaries to inherit the prejudices built up over time. Eliminating the data from these past decisions is an attempt to put job applicants on a more level field to be assessed.

As of this month, 21 states have banned pay history questions on job applications. Some states also prevent employers from relying on pay history to set compensation, even if the applicant volunteers the data.

In addition to the new rule, Biden announced his intention to sign an executive order that could lead to a prohibition on federal contractors using salary history information when setting their wages. The policy would affect the roughly 4.1 million U.S. workers who are federal contractors.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation. This story first appeared in The American Independent.