Most years, the governor of the Equality State signs a proclamation recognizing Equal Pay Day.

Equal Pay Day marks the date symbolizing how far into the year women must work in order to earn what men earned in the previous year.

For Wyoming women that date usually falls in June. For white moms that date falls at about the same time. For black, indigenous, Latinx and other women of color, it falls even later in the year.

Equal Pay Day generally offers an anodyne opportunity to highlight the implications of economic disparities. And then we pat ourselves on the back and move on without fully interrogating the problems of wealth inequality, unpaid care work and unequal access to health care, education and opportunity.

This Equal Pay Day we recognize that our economic system still perpetuates inequity that limits our entire society.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, writing in honor of Mom’s Equal Pay Day, says, “To begin to unravel the tangled mess of institutionalized discrimination and racism that exists throughout our country, we must also look deeply into our economic system.”

The temptation exists — and many give in to it — to say that women, especially black, indigenous, Latinx and immigrant women, “choose” lower-paying jobs. But they do not. This is not at all about “choice.”

Real justice looks like equal access to possibility, health, safety and success. We cannot achieve a secure and thriving democracy without equal access, which also requires transforming our economic systems. Nothing will change unless we invest in policies that support all people.

This Equal Pay Day we highlight women’s important economic role in our state and point out that women’s economic losses damage more than just individual women.

In Teton County that means acknowledging that more than 1 in 4 members of our community are Latinx and that women, people of color and immigrants lost jobs at greater rates than other groups during the pandemic. It means enabling a broader discussion about the role of tourism and second-home ownership in our local economy and how we might reorient both toward equity and justice. It also means absorbing lessons from other communities about how to foreground the rights of the workforce and local residents.

In private businesses across the state that means directly addressing the gender wage gap and implementing other policies that support working women. That includes wage audits to ensure parity for women and people of color. It means making paid sick leave and paid family leave available to all employees. The fact is, businesses that have implemented those policies have stronger, more productive workforces.

In Wyoming that means enacting stronger equal pay protections. Changes to state statute proposed during the legislative session — like eliminating the question of salary history and ensuring that employees cannot be fired for discussing wages — would require no change to the state budget and go a long way toward closing the gender wage gap, which, in turn creates new economic opportunities and jobs statewide.

Darcy Mueller, a senior at the Jackson Hole Community School, pressed for those changes as part of her senior project.

“Despite the negative impacts of the wage gap seen by all Wyoming citizens,” Mueller writes, “there has been minimal progress to address the wage gap. An effort to discuss implementing protections against the gender wage gap ... ultimately failed as the majority of legislators believed this discussion did not personally affect them and did not have enough merit to warrant discussion.”

This Equal Pay Day we must acknowledge that women are the backbone of our families, communities and society at large. When we lift all women up, everyone benefits.

Jennifer M. Simon founded the Wyoming Women’s Action Network and is a senior policy advisor to the Equality State Policy Center. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She can be reached via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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