By Philip Hamilton on April 4, 2017
Sixty-seven percent. According to a new and soon to be released report by the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the median wage black women earn is a mere 67 percent of what white men earn and only 81 percent of what white women earn. This April 4th, which marks Equal Pay Day in the United States, UUSC stands with women, in particular women of color, in calling for policies that honor equal pay for equal work. By coming together to work at the intersection of gender, race, and worker rights, we can continue to make progress to end the wage gap, and there’s no better time to get started than today.
Equal Pay Day marks the day each year when women’s earnings catch up to what their male counterparts earned the previous year. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “women in the United States are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,470.” The Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) data on the gender wage gap breaks the data down further: the median hourly wage for white men in 2016 was $21.29 and for white women was $17.25, while black women earned a median of $13.90, and Hispanic women earned a median of $12.27.
What these numbers show, is not only is there a gendered wage gap but, as the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress (JEC) and multiple others have pointed out: the intersection of race and gender deepens existing inequality that women in the United States face. This is not an accident or an oversight, it is a symptom of structural issues regarding how women are treated and compensated in the workplace.
How the Gender Wage Gap Plays Out
Multiple causes underlie the wage gap, many of which have been explored by economists, activists, and academics. One reason includes challenges that women face because of where they work. The National Women’s Law Center explains, “Women are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs that are often dominated by men, and overrepresented in low-paying jobs—women are two-thirds of workers in occupations that typically pay $10.50 or less per hour…like home health aide, child care worker, and maid and housekeeping cleaner.” JEC also notes the dynamic that race plays, “Hispanic and African-American women… are more likely than white women to hold jobs that offer fewer hours and are more likely to work part-time involuntarily” and they are also “less likely to have access to benefits such as paid sick leave, paid family leave and flexible work schedules.”
Workplace policies and low federal wages perpetuate the pay gap. As UUSC’s former partner Restaurant Opportunities Center United found,
66 percent of women they interviewed in the restaurant industry reported being subjected to sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions from customers.” Overall, 63 percent of women ignored the harassment from guests, in part as a result of the power dynamic between servers and customers, given the restaurant industry’s pervasive use of a tipped minimum wage. Higher wages could thus go a long way towards increasing
pay as well as reducing harassment women face in the restaurant industry.
Relatedly, women also face the “motherhood penalty.” Research has “consistently shown that women with children are paid less than womenwithout children and men with or without children.” A recent Forbes article describes how the penalty goes even further than wage inequity, “new moms are often perceived to have lower competence and commitment, and they face higher professional expectations and a lower chance of hiring and promotion.”
Many efforts have also been made to try and account for how other factors affect wages, such as the area of industry or level of education. However, controlling for these does not explain away the wage gap, and in some cases, the findings are counterintuitive. EPI found that when education is taken into account, the wage gap actually increases as women earn advanced degrees.
If we want to eliminate the wage gap in the future and achieve equal pay for equal work, there are clear policy options that can be advanced, such as enacting fair pay protections and raising the minimum wage. Legislation like the Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act would address wage disparities and make it easier to for parties to demonstrate that discrimination has occurred. The Center for American Progress reports that women comprised “approximately two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2012,” despite the fact that “nearly two-thirds of mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families.” That’s an annual salary of less than $16,000. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would boost wages for about 15 million women.
Finally, paid family leave and access to child care have both been making headlines in recent months, due in part to the discussion of these issues by the Trump administration. However, the policies being discussed are woefully inadequate and we must work toward a national paid family and medical leave standard for women and men, including adoptive parents, same-sex couples, and non-birthing parents.” Additionally, the Tax Policy Center found that under Trump’s child care plan “more than 70 percent of the total tax benefits would go to families with income above $100,000, and more than 25 percent to families with income above $200,000.” Policies like these will do little for the average worker in the United States.
Programs that help people pursue claims of wage discrimination or ensure that they can take leave after welcoming a new child into their family are critical, particularly to women working in minimum wage jobs or jobs with irregular hours. Further, programs that address things at the structural level, like increasing the Federal minimum wage, also work to remove the bias of interpersonal decisions.
While the current political context makes closing the wage gap feel like a long shot, there is hope. Across the country, intersectional organizing is taking place, as workers and their allies are coming together to advocate and move movements forward that work for racial justice, gender justice, and worker rights. Any solutions that strive to close the wage gap must look beyond a sole focus on gender justice, and should include a push for racial justice.
On May Day (May 1), UUSC’s partner Food Chain Workers Alliance is helping to organize a general strike demanding respect for worker rights, and gender and racial justice, and to call for a world where the most marginalized working families live with dignity, safety, and power. Another UUSC partner, Rural Community Workers Alliance is also participating. We hope you will join them to support women and working families.