State Rep. Alice K. Wolf, a Cambridge Democrat, filed legislation this week after learning of a persistent wage gap between Massachusetts men and women. (Photo: Blue Mass Group)

State Rep. Alice K. Wolf, a Democrat from Cambridge, has filed legislation with state Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, to close a Massachusetts wage gap by establishing a legal definition for comparable work.

Wage gap? What wage gap exists in enlightened Massachusetts?

The answer may surprise some. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released last week (click here for the summary), women in Massachusetts earn only 76 percent of what men earn, compared with a national average of 79.9 percent. (Which is bad enough, most would say, but some would suggest the lower pay contributes to lower unemployment rates among women; the same report shows a 7.9 percent unemployment rate for adult women, compared with 10 percent unemployment rate for adult men.)

Of the six New England states, only Connecticut and New Hampshire had larger gaps. Massachusetts has been below the national numbers since 2003, and the peak ratio of women’s to men’s earnings was 79.3 percent in 2004.

“This report underscores the need for the Legislature to take action for working women across the commonwealth,” Wolf said in a Monday press release.  “Our communities and our economy suffer when half the workforce is bringing home less than it deserves.”

“This legislation is vital to boost the standard of living for Massachusetts families.  Women must be treated and compensated as equal partners,” Jehlen said in the same press release.  “This is common-sense legislation that is of no cost to the commonwealth.”

The press release concludes:

Their bill defines comparable work as “solely based on whether the two positions entail comparable skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions between employees of the opposite sex.”  The goal of the bill is to eliminate the wage gap between men and women by ensuring work requiring comparable skill, effort and responsibility — beyond the scope of specific male- or female-dominated professions — is compensated equally.