How Menino Plans to Address the Wage Gap

A three pronged plan aims to help our city close the earning divide between men and women.

Mayor Menino's decision to walk out to Kelly Clarkson's “Stronger” before his State of the City address on Tuesday night was widely deemed a not-to-subtle reminder that he's still the big man around town, health troubles or no. The song was also pretty appropriate when you consider one of the mayor's highest priorities outlined in his speech: to make Boston “the premier city for working women.”  As I write in this month's issue, Massachusetts has a big problem when it comes to the wage gap–the American Association of University Women recently ranked us 37th in the nation on wage equity between men and women, with our female workers getting 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. It's inspiring to see the mayor attempt to tackle it with such gusto.

So what spurned the mayor to take on pay equity? Mayoral advisor Katharine Lusk tells me that it wasn't just the recent wage gap numbers that got Menino thinking (though they certainly did help things along) but an earlier report, also released by the AAUW last year, that found that women just a year out of college earn $7,622 less than their male counterparts in their first job. “Certainly because we are a college town,” Lusk tells me, that made it an important issue. “The mayor is always looking at all the issues that affect college students. And when you look at those statistics, you would assume that as women become more educated, that wage equity would just happen.” The problem, of course, is that it doesn't, and in fact it's just the opposite. As Victoria Budson, who heads the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School put it plainly for my story: “The higher level a woman is in her profession, and the more education a woman has, the broader the wage gap.”

The mayor's plan is three pronged. He's creating a Women's Workforce Council (the first of its kind in the country, says Lusk), one that will represent the core industries in the city and that will make recommendations on policy and workplace proposals to help women in the workforce. He's helping with access to child care, offering $1 million in low interest loans to help “family-based early education providers invest in safe, quality child care environments.” And he's creating a program for women business owners. “It will deal with the unique hurdles women business owners face, serving to better connect them to each other and to the city,” says Lusk. “It's about understanding what their needs are.”

For Menino, it's the subject of equity is “very personal issue,” says Lusk. “As a grandfather, he wants to make sure he’s providing the best working environment for his granddaughters.” Cheers to that.