If you see red today, it’s not by accident. Women across the country are being encouraged to wear red today, Equal Pay Day, as a reminder of the significant gender wage gap that exists in America.
The National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition that has been working to eliminate sex-and race-based wage discrimination and to achieve pay equity since forming in 1979, explains on its website: “Red is worn on this day as a symbol of how far women and minorities are ‘in the red’ with their pay.”
There are many examples of how we are failing on the equal pay front as a society. The Census Bureau and its annual report on income and poverty is the most often referenced to quantify the gender wage gap. Each year, as part of this report, the Census Bureau provides a ratio of women’s to men’s median earnings for full-time, year-round work based data from the Current Population Survey. The most recent report shows that a woman working full-time earned 80 cents to every dollar her full-time male counterpart earned in 2017, similar to findings in 2016. However, a recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) says that taking a multi-year view of wage growth finds that a woman actually earns 49 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns.
A study by AAUW found that in a comparison of occupations with at least 50,000 men and 50,000 women in 2017, 107 out of 114 occupations had statistically significant gaps in pay that favored men; six occupations had no significant gap; and just one had a gap favoring women. Just one.
Women outperformed men in earnings as wholesale and retail buyers, with the exception of farm products. Women’s annual earnings for this occupation were reported to be $45,496 as compared to $41,903 for men. And that was it. For all other occupations, women made less than men.
The study found women collectively are receiving billions less than they would with equal pay. The study cited, as an example, women working as physicians and surgeons are paid $19 billion less annually than if they were paid the same as men in that occupation.
The issue grows even more when racial bias becomes involved. Women of Hispanic or Latina descent earn 53% of a white male’s earnings. American Indians/Alaska natives follow closely behind at 58%. African Americans at 61% and slightly above them are Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders at 62%. White women earn 77% of a white male’s earnings and Asian women earn 85%.
Each year the gender pay gap results in $513 billion in lost wages for women, says the AAUW report. Kim Churches, the CEO of the AAUW stated, “The gender pay gap is persistent and stagnant… we’ve barely moved a nickel in two decades.”
The federal government promotes the concept of equal pay through the enforcement activities of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The Women’s Bureau of the U.S. provides an equal pay guide for women that outlines their rights under federal law. However, our federal government trails well behind European countries and Canada in its efforts to promote equal pay.
However, the real movement on pay equity issues has been at the state level. Several states and cities are banning organizations from inquiring into job candidates’ previous salary earnings. Historically, previous salary earnings perpetuated the wage gap between women and men. States such as Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon have passed laws aimed at ending the wage gap among gender, ethnicity and other protected classes. Cities such as San Diego and San Francisco have also passed laws to encourage equal pay practices by businesses and contractors. And not all businesses are turning a deaf ear to the calls for equal pay practices. Companies like Intel have made significant strides to address pay inequities with their workforces.
Further, perhaps in 2019 Congress will aid the cause of promoting equal pay in America. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act for the eleventh time and passed the legislation last month by a vote of 242 to 187. Seven House Republicans joined Democrats in passing the legislation in the House. The legislation must still be approved by the U.S. Senate, which has a Republican majority.
Progress on this issue seems to be inevitable. We are seeing more women become involved in the political system. According to Vox, there were 117 elected or appointed to the current Congress, the most ever. And nine women were elected governor in 2018. An increase in the number of elected women officials in government could help move the needle on equal pay. Significant equal pay laws were passed in Iceland after a 2016 election that saw women win 30 seats in Iceland’s parliament, bringing the split between men and women legislators to about 50%. By comparison, women make up about 20% of the U.S. Congress.
Businesses can play their part by proactively taking steps to identify problematic pay disparities within their organizations.
Working together, we can and should make equal pay a reality in the U.S.—sooner rather than later.