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Comparable Worth as a Labor Issue

Comparable worth has emerged as a significant labor issue during the 1980s. The concept is simple: jobs requiring similar education, skill and mental efforts should enjoy similar compensation rates within an organization. The issue is hotly debated however, as proponents and critics alike seek to understand the ramifications. This paper examines the history of the comparable worth controversy and anticipates the direction of the issue in the 1990s.

The comparable worth issue grew from observations that women traditionally make less money than men. In 1960, the average woman worker earned 60 cents for every dollar earned by the average male worker. By 1985, that figure had increased only to 66 cents for women, despite the fact that many more women had entered the workplace in the intervening years, and could be expected to have made wage advances (Smith, 1985, p. 13). There are many possible reasons for the wage discrepancy, including experience, length of time in the job market and job performance. Sex discrimination is also a potential reason, and a primary cause of the comparable worth issue.

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act guaranteed equal pay for equal work, by prohibiting sex-based discrimination for "equal worth on jobs, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and which are performed under similar working conditions." In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlawed compensation discrimination based on "race, creed, sex or national origin" (Smith, 1985, p. 13). These two laws prevent an employer paying identically qualified women less than men for the same job.

Comparable worth however, is not concerned with the same job. Instead, comparable worth seeks to provide equal pay for comparable jobs. One of the most difficult aspects of the question is how to define comparable jobs. Some jobs that are similar though not "equal" can be quickly classified as comparable: police dis...

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