- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2000

President Clinton announced yesterday he wants to spend $27 million to narrow the income gap between men and women and stiffen enforcement of equal-pay laws.
"This is a signal that wage discrimination will become a top priority," said Susan Bianchi-Sand, executive director of the National Committee on Pay Equity, a nonprofit group that promotes equal-pay legislation.
Women earn about 73 cents for every dollar men earn, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
The new plan includes $10 million for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which took responsibility for enforcement of equal-pay laws in 1998. It would use the money to train 1,000 staff inspectors and up to 3,000 employers.
Another $17 million would go to the Labor Department to help train women for jobs where they have been underrepresented, particularly in the high-technology sector.
Mr. Clinton also wants Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, which would strengthen laws prohibiting wage discrimination.
But critics said the plan is only an election-year ploy that can do little to improve women's earnings, despite fining employers for improper pay practices.
"The wage gap is not due to wage discrimination, but it's due to other factors," said Randel Johnson, vice president overseeing labor and employee benefits issues for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group. Women still spend more time away from the job than men and have less seniority, he said.
The announcement seems timed to boost Democratic visibility as the Iowa caucuses were held last night, congressional Republicans said.
"It is no accident that [Mr. Clinton] has repackaged an initiative that went nowhere last year and unveiled it on the day that the election season officially begins," read a joint statement yesterday from Rep. Bill Goodling, Pennsylvania Republican, and John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
The two parties have disagreed for some time about the issue. Last year, Mr. Clinton asked for $14 million to train government labor inspectors and companies about equal-pay laws, but the proposal failed in the Republican-led Congress.
Wage discrimination is against the law, and Republicans are in no hurry to start debating Mr. Clinton's new proposals, these and other congressional sources said.
The initiative's supporters didn't accept the argument that the wage gap has been narrowing for the past 20 years.
"The president's commitment to providing resources to address pay inequality is the first step in truly eliminating this injustice," Mrs. DeLauro said in a statement.
However, a human resources consultant questioned how well the proposal could level wage disparities.
"If you're trying to force businesses to make change in a punitive sense, the impact is doubtful," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Northbrook, Ill.-based outplacement firm.
"I'm more comfortable with money spent on developing technical skills. Every dollar we spend on training more people I think is a good investment," he said.
Supporters were undeterred.
"I think it's a good beginning," said Karen Nussbaum, director of the working women's department of the AFL-CIO labor federation, praising Mr. Clinton for supporting stronger laws, stricter enforcement and new training programs. But government and business need to look at discrimination more deeply, she said.
"Child care workers earn less than gas station attendants," she said. "We still undervalue women's work."

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