As the Bay State continues to lag behind the national average for equal women's earnings, a group of female state legislators is pressing a bill concerning equalizing pay for women in comparable jobs as men.

"I don't think that there is any single issue more important to women than this because this is where the rubber hits the road ... in terms of women being equal to men," said state Rep. Cory Atkins.

Atkins spoke during an Equal Pay Day event at the State House yesterday. Equal Pay Day is a national day organized by the National Committee on Pay Equity to bring attention to the wage gap between men and women.

Women in Massachusetts earn about 80 percent of what their male counterparts make, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average is about 81 percent.


The gap in Massachusetts is unique, said Victoria Budson, the founding executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, due to the state's unique education levels.

"There's no other state where women are as educated as in Massachusetts," she said.

Jacqueline Cooke of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor said the agency is trying to push young women to take or look for jobs in nontraditional fields such as science, math or green technology. "One reason women are paid less is that they work in jobs that are traditionally considered women's jobs," Cooke said.

While progress has been made to balance the pay between men and women doing the exact same job, work still needs to be done on pay equity for comparable jobs, legislators said.

A bill meant to define comparable work for employers is headed to the state Senate Ways and Means Committee.

"It's a very minor step, but it's a step toward achieving equality," said state Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville.

Equal Pay Day next week

While women legislators held an Equal Pay Day event at the State House yesterday, the national Equal Pay Day is slated for Tuesday.

The date of the event, April 17, symbolizes how far into 2012 women must work to earn what men earned in 2011, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

Because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work longer for the same amount of pay. The wage gap is even greater for most minority women, according to the committee.

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