In New York City, as part of an effort by the city council to “narrow the gender pay gap,” a new bill proposes to forbid employers from asking potential hires about their salary history. According to a report from the office of public advocate Letitia James, the bill’s prime sponsor, “the common practice of employers’ use of prior salary history to determine employee pay perpetuates the existing wage inequities women face.” Salary-history inquiries, according to this argument, trap women who are already victims of discriminatory pay practices in a vicious cycle of systemic wage theft. New York City joins Massachusetts and Philadelphia as the first jurisdictions to enact laws against this practice; there are plans to introduce similar legislation at the federal level.
Leaving aside the question of whether a significant wage gap actually exists between men and women with identical education, training, and experience, the bill (which Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to sign) represents a massive failure to understand labor markets and seeks to impose on private industry the kind of wage transparency commonly associated with public employment. The advocates behind the law want to eliminate the question of individual merit or talent from hiring across the economy, replacing it with salaries inflexibly linked to job title.
At a press conference prior to the city council’s vote, Public Advocate James made a statement that contradicts the meaning of the bill as written:
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