New Jersey may join a growing movement to ban some widely used questions companies ask people on job applications: What is your current salary, and how much did you make at other jobs?

A bill in the state Legislature aims to help close the longstanding pay gap between men and women, according to its sponsors, who argue the gap is caused in part by women often starting their working lives in poor-paying jobs.

“Unfortunately, hiring practices that take into consideration an applicant’s past salary only perpetuate the disparities that exist,” said state Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, Passaic, who co-sponsored the proposed law with Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. “Eliminating salary history as part of the discussion ... is one way to help create wage fairness in New Jersey.”

The latest U.S. Census report on gender differences in paychecks found women who worked full time all year earned 80 percent of what men who worked that same schedule earned in 2015.

“The female-to-male earnings ratio has not shown a statistically significant annual increase since 2007,” the census reported.

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New Jersey women earned 82 cents for every dollar men make, according to a National Women’s Law Center’s analysis. The group said the state’s pay ratio for women ranked 17th-best nationwide. NWLC reported that New York and Delaware had the highest pay ratios, with women earning 89 percent of men’s salaries.

States and cities across the country have started trying to address that gap by barring questions about past earnings. In August, Massachusetts became the first state to ban employers from requiring applicants to list their salary histories. That law is set to take effect in 2018.

California legislators have passed a similar measure, although it hasn’t been signed into law yet, and the same idea has been proposed in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers in the cities of New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., among others, have also introduced bans on requiring applicants to detail their past earnings.

And last month, four members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation that would make that a national law.

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Deb Figart teaches economics at Stockton University, and the paycheck gender gap has been one of her research areas.

“I’ve been hearing about (the salary-history issue) for as long as we all have been studying the wage gap,” she said, “and trying to figure out the myriad reasons” it exists.

She said that although years of studies have found that differences in education, skills, seniority, union representation and other factors can all contribute to lower earnings for women, “We always come up with a percentage of the wage gap, as much as a third,” that research can’t explain.

“Could that be due to ... discrimination?” she asked.

“When you’re asked to give your salary history, if you were discriminated against in the past, it can move that forward to the present,” Figart said.

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Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said his group is watching this discussion’s progress around the country.

“We recognize that there is an issue out there, that there should absolutely be parity” in paychecks, Egenton said.

Still, “any type of mandate that comes out of Trenton or (Washington) that tells employers what they can and can’t do is very concerning for the business community,” Egenton said, adding his group is willing to work with the sponsors to come up with rules that both sides could support.

The American Association of University Women has been lobbying to ban salary-history questions for “at least five years,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations for the 135-year-old organization.

Maatz, based in Washington, noted the proposed federal law but said, “Congress is about as gridlocked as gridlocked can be. So we’re looking toward the states.”

And as the idea spreads to more places, she added she has even been finding interest among the companies that would be banned from asking a common hiring question.

“It’s really a way to address pay discrimination, a proactive way to ensure that companies don’t allow prior discrimination to walk in the door,” Maatz said.

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I started in newspapers in 1980 as a copy boy and freelance writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. I went to the Gloucester County Times in 1984 as a reporter, moved to The Press in 1985 and have been a reporter/columnist in the news, features and Money.

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