A measure designed to narrow the gender wage gap in Illinois advanced out of the Senate’s Labor Committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 981, sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), would prohibit Illinois employers from asking job applicants about their salary history, a practice that perpetuates gender discrimination and wage inequality.

“If you’re an employer who prides yourself on not discriminating against your workers but you base starting pay on what they earned at their last job, they may be perpetuating the wage gap,” Biss said.

Women in Illinois make up nearly half of the workforce but earn just 79 cents for every $1 that men earn. For women of color, the wage gap is wider – Black and African-American women earn 63 cents on the dollar to white men; Hispanic and Latina women earn just 48 cents.

Illinois women who work full-time lose nearly $20 billion every year because of unequal pay, meaning less money for their savings, for spending on basic goods and services and for investing back into the local economy.

“We have a troubling wage gap in Illinois and across the country that is unfair and unacceptable. This legislation attempts to confront the problem at its source – during negotiations between a job applicant and a potential employer,” Biss said. “Every time an employer bases a woman’s starting salary on what she made at her previous job, they’re ensuring that she never catches up and that we never close the gap.”

Wednesday was International Women’s Day.

Biss also is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1721, the Family Leave Insurance Act, which would offer up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for employees to recover from serious health conditions, care for a child or other family member, or spend time with a newborn or adopted child within any 24-month period. Employees would receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage, which would be funded through a 0.3 percent payroll deduction.

The legislation is assigned to the Senate Labor Committee.

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