Mississippi is the only state in the nation without state level equal pay protections for women.

Today, the Mississippi Senate Labor Committee met to hear from a panel of speakers on the importance of equal pay legislation in the state of Mississippi.

The Equal Pay public hearing was organized by the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR). Legislators heard from national activist Lilly Ledbetter, the National Women’s Law Center, United Way, and other equal rights advocates. 

Mississippi is currently the only state in the national without an Equal Pay Law. Advocates say 73% of Mississippi mothers serve as co-breadwinners in their families and Mississippi women make up 49% of the overall workforce in the State.

According to a handout from the BWR, “Mississippi women working full time, year round typically make just 75 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This translates to a wage gap of $10,389 annually.”

Cassandra Welchlin with Black Women’s Roundtable said the organization has been advocating for equal pay for years, but no legislation has been passed to regulate disparities in pay.

“There is no reason that Mississippi shouldn’t provide equal pay protections, especially in the middle of the pandemic,” Welchlin said during the hearing.

National activist Lilly Ledbetter has been promoting this issue for over a decade and has been fighting to achieve pay equality across the country. She appeared at today’s hearing to speak on Mississippi’s lack of equal pay legislation.

Ledbetter stated that unequal pay for equal work is a pandemic in this country. She expressed her hope for Mississippi to get on board and join the other 49 states that have equal pay protections.

“This affects women from all walks of life. I’ve met Dr.’s in New York who were getting paid only a one third to their male counterparts. I’ve spoken with lawyers who can’t make partner, but it’s really a sad case for our low wage working women.” Ledbetter said. “You can control equal pay in your state better than the federal government can.”

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Act requires employers to intensify their efforts in ensuring that their pay practices are non-discriminatory.

Many women do not know that they are being paid substantially less than their counterparts, explained Jessica Stender with Equal Rights Advocates.

Activist Willie Jones is an employer, business owner and community leader. She told the committee that Mississippi should provide more workforce development funding to support high paying jobs for women like truck driving, tech, and construction.

Harriet Oppenheim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that over the last 11 years, they have only successfully been able to provide recourse wage discrepancy cases two times. Oppenheim explained that discrimination in the workplace remains a key problem in the wage gap.

A civil engineering student at Mississippi State University ended today’s Labor Committee hearing. Maria stated that knowing that the state has no regulation when it comes to pay disparities, she wonders how well the Mississippi Legislature values the working women in the state.

Maria asked the committee why should she should stay in a state that doesn’t care about the efforts that she is trying to provide.

“The lack of regulation when it comes to pay disparities gives the impression that what I’m trying to accomplish for the community, isn’t as important to the legislators,” she told lawmakers.