The Truth Behind
America's Gender Pay Gap
While Arizona Has One Of The Lowest Gender Pay Gaps In The Nation, Women In The State Still Earn 84 Cents On The Dollar Compared To Men, While The Race Pay Gap Grows
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By Stephanie Sparer
Modern Times Magazine
April 28, 2016 — Equal pay for equal work is the phrase women have been hearing and repeating since they joined the workforce. Maybe even before; or at least since around 1890 when economists began taking an interest in the gender wage gap. It’s a chant that has withstood the test of time and remains relevant today.
According to Claudia Goldin, the Henry Lee professor of economics at Harvard University and program director and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass., “women make up 47 percent of the total labor force”
That’s a record breaking number and higher than it’s been, well, ever.
She notes, however, that this is not the statistics that should get the most attention. Rather, all eyes should be on women’s earnings.
While Goldin does admit that the ratio of female earnings to male earnings in a full-time position has increased “greatly” since the Working Girl Women Can Have It All Including Big Hair 1980s movement (women now earn a national average of .79 cents to the dollar earned by male counterparts—or .78 or .75 or .77 cents depending on where you get your stats), the reality is women, on average, still earn substantially less than men working in comparable positions.
That’s why Hillary Clinton still talks about the wage gap as she campaigns. That’s why Jennifer Lawrence writes about it for Lenny Letter. That’s why President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And, quite frankly, that’s why I am writing about it now.
Arizona is among the states with the lowest gender pay gap in the nation as women earn .84 cents to the dollar (in 2012 AZ was ranked second behind only trailing Washington D.C. at .90 cents, but now the state is tied with California and Vermont for eighth). However, the issue still looms large here as the math adds up to a median full-time annual salary of $36,916 for Arizona women and a $43,495 for men in the state.
Debra L. Ness is the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families and states in her Equal Pay Day press release, “This analysis is a sobering reminder of the serious harm the wage gap causes women and families all across the country. At a time when women’s wages are so critical to the economic well-being of families, the country is counting on lawmakers to work together to advance the fair and family friendly workplace policies that would promote equal pay. There is no time to waste.”
President Obama may have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009—in fact, it was the first bill he signed into law—but the current statistics show that more needs to be done to address the pay gap.
One potential solution is the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes left behind by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in order to prevent gender-based pay discrimination. Changes would include amending “the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 known as the Equal Pay Act to revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages,” and revising “the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience,” according to the text of the bill.
Former Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) shared his thoughts on the Paycheck Fairness Act via his official Facebook page in 2014, stating "The Lilly Ledbetter Act, which was signed into law five years ago, is a big step forward to ensure equal pay for equal work, but women [still make less than men].” That’s true in every state regardless of job, education, and ethnicity.
Yet the Paycheck Fairness Act has been introduced 10 times since 1997 and still has not been passed by Congress.
Rachel Lyons, senior government affairs manager for The National Partnership for Women & Families, still has hope.
“I think [the bill] will pass and it will take the work of grassroots and committed women around the country—everyone calling on their legislatures,” she said. “They really respond to outside pressure. The bill and the issue is so popular across demographics and partisan lines and that will eventually change people’s minds.”
Lyons isn’t the only one throwing her support behind the legislation. During a campaign stop on Equal Pay Day, Clinton sat down with Robert Hohman, CEO of Glassdoor, amongst others, at a Glassdoor event to talk about how badly all women need a raise.
“It’s something that is long overdue,” Clinton said in her opening remarks on April 12. “We also need legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, so people won’t be fired or retaliated against for asking what their co-workers make. If [as a business owner you’re] scared of people having more information, that may raise a question you should ask yourself, maybe you're not being fair.”
Goldin agrees. On a January 2016 episode of the podcast Freakonomics, Goldin (who admits she makes roughly $5 more per paycheck than her husband who holds the same job) explains that women often make less because they are mothers and caretakers and forced or cajoled into taking positions that will allow them more flexibility or, as Goldin calls it, “temporal flexibility.”
She notes that often men and women start out at nearly the same pay rate, but as women grow older and they find themselves caring for older parents or children, job priorities shift. “A lot of that occurs a year or two after a kid is born, and it occurs for women and not for men,” Goldin said.
During this time men tend to work longer hours and thus get the promotion, she explained. However, that’s not implying that women are sabotaging themselves because they’re caretakers.
“[People tend to] think there are external factors and an element of choice in which jobs you choose,” Lyons said. “But women aren’t making unconstrained choices and that’s because of lack of workplace support such as paid sick days. The idea that women are self-sabotaging is not fair. [The wage gap] is too systemic and too epidemic to be that simple.”
While this won’t solve everything, Clinton believes women should strive to grasp better jobs if they can. “We... have to encourage more women to enter higher-paying fields, like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics...,” she says. “These are good jobs and good jobs mean better pay.”
She’s correct. But only if you’re white, because the gender pay gap is exacerbated by the racial pay gap.
The National Partnership reports that “African American women, Latinas, and Asian women who work full time, year round are paid .67 cents, .54 cents and .81 cents, respectively.” Clinton referenced these numbers also and expressed her disdain.
“The last time I checked there’s no discount for being a woman,” Clinton said. “Groceries don’t cost us less. Rent doesn’t cost us less. So why should we be paid less?”
“It’s important to stress that even though we’re talking about overall numbers, the numbers for women of color are even worse,” said Lyons. “When you drill down, Arizona women of color are being paid much less even than white women. The wage gap is a real problem that impacts the way women support their families and something should be done about it.”
The National Partnership agrees, noting in its Equal Pay Day press release that “On average, Arizona women lose nearly $6 billion every year, which is money that could strengthen the state economy and the financial security of Arizona’s women and families, including the more than 304,000 Arizona households headed by women.”
And in fact, the same press release claims that 31 percent of Arizona’s woman-headed households are currently living below poverty level. if the gender wage gap and the minorities gender wage-gap could be closed, National Partnership argues, Arizona woman would have enough money to pay for food for a year, pay for their homes for six more months, and still have money left over for utilities.
The National Partnership for Women & Families notes that while the Paycheck Fairness Act could help shrink the wage gap, it would also establish much-needed workplace protections for women, including paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, minimum wage increases, fair scheduling, and protections for pregnant workers.
“It is unacceptable that the wage gap has persisted, punishing the country’s women and families for decades,” Ness said in her press release. “Some state lawmakers have taken steps to address the issue by passing legislation to combat discriminatory pay practices and provide other workplace supports. It is past time for federal lawmakers to do the same. We need Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is a common-sense proposal that has languished for much too long.”
The fight to get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed is strong. However, the fight for equal pay goes much deeper than legislation as women also must constantly struggle to attain respect in the workplace and other professional settings.
For instance, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump spends his days campaigning against women who bleed out of their…”wherever” and often verbally assaults prominent female rivals like Clinton or Carly Fiorina based on perceived superficial flaws rather than on substantive issues. When Clinton recently criticized Trump’s discriminatory comments regarding women, he dismissively claimed she was playing the “woman card.”
Sadly, these sorts of negative labels are commonly applied to women who speak up regarding disrespect or the pay gap. As Jennifer Lawrence put it in her open letter regarding the pay gap in Hollywood, women are perceived as “spoiled” and other negative descriptors for wanting to receive compensation that is equal to that of their male counterparts.
The Arizona Women's Education & Employment Inc., an advocacy organization that helps women find better career opportunities, stresses that respect goes hand in hand with equal pay. Since 1981, it has worked in Arizona with a focus on what it calls “workplace development.” Its website explains the importance of education, negotiating skills, and being assertive in order to get ahead in life, or at least be on equal footing with men. Easy to say. Harder to do.
Needless to say, the fight for equal pay for women is far from over, and it will take a concerted effort from legislators, employers and women everywhere to close the wage gap and create a more equitable workplace environment. Because it is not as if women can just charge their rent or doctor fees or children’s clothing to the “woman card,” despite what Donald Trump would have you believe.
Stephanie Sparer is a regular contributor to Modern Times Magazine. She lives in Phoenix.
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