As discussions continue about the ever growing income gap between the wealthy, known as “the one percent” and middle and low wage earners so does the discussion of women and equal pay. The president recently outlined a plan to bring up middle income earners through a variety of tax and wage incentives and he touched on the subject he initially used in his campaign—equal pay for women. Women on average earn roughly twenty cents less per hour as compared to men for the same work according to the U.S. Department of Labor. During his state of the union speech last week President Obama told Congress they, “really need to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work,”
We at the Sisikiyou wondered why it would be that such a gap exists. Isn’t there a law banning discrimination?
Here’s what we found: There has already been a law passed banning the practice of paying women less for the same work. The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 when average earnings for women was at fifty nine cents per hour as compared to men, now it’s eighty cents but that is still not equal pay.
“There are many female CEO’s that do the same the exact same job as men and need to be receiving the same pay,” SOU senior Serena DeChristofaro says, “Hearing the numbers doesn’t discourage me, but actually makes me more ambitious to take steps towards achieving equality.”
It appears that while females make up roughly half of the work force there is a penalty for parenting which falls disproportionately on women. Men with children get an earnings boost, whereas women lose earnings. Men with children earn about 2% more on average than men without children, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office findings, whereas women with children earn about 2.5% less than women without children. This is truer among women of color who earn less than white women. African American women reportedly make less at 68.8 cents and Latina women even lower at 50.8.
It has long been thought the wage gap and child penalty was due to women working fewer hours than men once they become parents but the evidence of this is murky and unverified according to the Department of labor and would not explain the race gap.
A part of the unequal pay problem also may revolve around the difficulty in bringing a court case forward to demand equal pay. Proving discrimination is difficult. One must show a pattern that the work is equal between men and women and the pay isn’t and that the company is aware of the practice but refusing to rectify it. Many companies will not cooperate until they are ordered by a court to share their earnings records. That takes suing the company which is costly, time consuming and makes no promise of success. Still, there has been an increase in equal pay lawsuits according to the Equal Opportunity Commission and some of them have been successful such as a Citicorp lawsuit in 2011 showing that a man made nearly double what his female counterpart earned. The company had to compensate the woman with back pay.
Michelle Glass is the lead organizer in the Medford Oregon Action office, a statewide multicultural organization dedicated to social justice. She believes that, “This is a systemic and cultural problem with deep historical roots.”
Among those roots is the theory that women choose lower paying jobs to maintain work-life balance. Alena Ruggerio, head of the communications department here at SOU says, “In our current economic system there is no such thing as work-life balance. It is more likely that due to sexist discrimination, employers believe that women-dominated fields will tolerate lower wages.” Recent studies back her theory up. They refer to a practice known as “gender segregation” which implies that traditionally female dominated careers pay less regardless of balance. There are many factors involved with this according to a recent study by two professors, one at the Wharton School of Business and another at McGill University in Montreal which concludes women often don’t apply for the higher paying jobs assuming they won’t get them. The reasons for this, they speculate, go deep into the heart of age old discrimination patterns.
While Oregon is closer to equal, employers here pay roughly three cents more per hour to women than other states, it still lags behind men at roughly 78 cents to a man’s dollar. But nowhere in the United States is pay equal. The District of Columbia comes closest with 90 cents for women as compared to a dollar for men.
The president argues without a sweeping piece of agreed upon legislation and a set of rules in place to monitor and regulate equal pay it will take in excess of one hundred years at the current rate of progress for women to get the same check for the same work. He says bluntly this is not just bad for women and families but bad for the economy.
As of today no vote is scheduled to rectify the situation. The last equal pay bill was blocked in the spring of 2014 by House Republicans.