- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Advocates are urging New Mexico’s elected leaders to enforce existing policies aimed at closing wage gaps and gender disparities within the workforce as a way to address poverty and other systemic problems that have hampered the state for decades.

Leaders with the Southwest Women's Law Center, Young Women United and other groups gathered Wednesday in Albuquerque to discuss the gaps and how they might affect families.

They pointed to New Mexico as one of the poorest states in the nation, with consistently high rates of children and families living in poverty. They also said many households in the state are headed by women, who typically are on the wrong end of the spectrum when it comes to wage disparities.

“Years ago people thought pay equity was women against men. It’s not that anymore. It’s definitely a family issue,” said Martha Burk, a consultant and director of the New Mexico Pay Equity Initiative.

Burk said New Mexico was ahead of the curve nearly a decade ago when then-Gov. Bill Richardson signed an executive order to evaluate the problem in New Mexico and require certain vendors contracting with the state to file pay equity reports when bidding for contracts.

Now, nearly all states have some kind of law to guard against employment and wage discrimination, and cities -from San Francisco to Albuquerque - are adopting their own initiatives to tackle wage gaps.

The call for the state to do more was triggered by a recent review of vendor pay information by the state auditor’s office. Auditors found there were persistent wage gaps and drastic underreporting. In one category, the largest gap showed some male technicians were making almost twice as much as women.

While data showed the overall workforce was nearly balanced between men and women, representation in some fields varied from women making up more than three-quarters of those in office and administrative support positions to only 3 percent of skilled craft workers.

The auditors also found that vendors submitted only 267 reports to the state between 2011 and 2016, with fewer than 10 reports being submitted in three of those years.

State Auditor Tim Keller said the review shines a light on the previously unanalyzed data and provides an opportunity for vendors to do more to address the gaps.

“It’s something that in one sentence everyone can understand. We all believe we should be paid the same for the same work, regardless of who we are,” Keller said. “That is fundamental to America and to New Mexico. That’s not happening today.”

Keller, a former Democratic state senator who is among those vying to be Albuquerque’s next mayor, used the report to take a swipe at Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration for allowing the pay equity reports to “collect dust.”

While the governor’s office did not indicate whether it would revive the state’s task force on equal pay, the office said the best ways to help New Mexico’s most vulnerable populations are to focus on improving the education system and diversifying the economy.

“Gender discrimination is completely inappropriate and will not be tolerated by the state,” said Emilee Cantrell, a spokeswoman for the governor. “The state is an equal-opportunity employer and will continue to champion the very diversity our state is known for within state government.”

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