The Gender Pay Gap

The Gender Pay Gap

In the past we’ve seen national studies showing that women, with equal levels of education, earning less than what white males earn, with Asian female earnings coming the closest and Hispanic females the farthest from white males.
On March 1, The Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey released state level census data on the gender gap. The gender wage gap in the United States has narrowed in recent years, but significant differences remain. In 2019, males who worked full-time, year-round earned $53,544 compared to $43,394 for women, a $10,150 difference. Another way to put this disparity into perspective is to highlight the equal pay day. In 2019 women had to work until March 15 of 2020 to earn what male earned at the end of 2019.

At the state level, the highest wage gap, $21,676, in the US is in the state of Wyoming. The only place where this is no gender wage gap is in Puerto Rico, where females earn, on average, $674 more then males. In Arkansas average male earnings were $45,015, while female earnings $35,541, a difference of $9,474. Arkansas’ low income levels are to some extent offset by the state’s average price level which is only 84.7 percent of the average price level at the national level.

Regardless of Arkansas’ lower level of prices, the gender wage gap is a serious problem for female wage earners in Arkansas (and the nation as a whole) especially when you consider that 45 percent of marriages in the US end in divorce thus leaving them as the income earners. Even for families with two income earners, females are the higher income earners in 40 percent of the cases. The gender pay gap explains why more women live in poverty (21 million) compared to males (17 million).

The reason for the gender pay gap has been the subject of debate among labor economists since before my years as a graduate school. The US Department of Labor, in a report titled: Women Need Equal Pay Now, cited seven factors contributing to the pay gap: Stereotyping that pressure’s women into gender appropriate jobs. Educational and training gaps that create barriers for women entering certain occupations. Uneven family care giving responsibilities that reduce the time women have in the labor force.

Networks and mentors, who are crucial in terms of referrals for job openings, are limited in non-traditional jobs for women. Limited access to capital creates barriers for women to start their own business. Workplace discrimination can deter women, especially women of color, from applying for a job and selecting women for employment. And finally, workplace culture and harassment can include hostile work environments for women which limit a woman’s chances for advancement.

The Labor Department’s report specifically recommends, improving equity by elevating women in leadership in the federal workforce, by in increasing the affordability of higher education, and expanding access to apprenticeship programs, by supporting women in the workplace with job flexibility, including making child care affordable. Increase women’s access to capital by increasing resources and support for women entrepreneurs. Address discrimination by employers by investigating and prosecuting complaints and enforcing nondiscrimination, and finally by raising the federal minimum wage, and strengthening workers’ collective bargaining rights.

My fear is that the standard solutions, which the report cites, is not enough to eliminate the pay gap. All the suggested solutions already exist in some form and have proven to be less than effective, or were part of President Biden’s economic agenda which, while having passed in the House of Representatives, has died in the Senate.

None of this should be taken to mean that we should stop trying the so-called standard solution, but we need to recognize that all our efforts to date have been efforts to eliminate existing roadblocks for women in their quest for equal pay. Employers, and our existing institutional frameworks, seem inclined to pay women less, or perpetuate employment roadblocks, while the government is always on the defensive, being reactive to the problem of gender pay inequality as opposed to be proactive.

The best possible solution to gender pay inequality would be the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It wasn’t until the 1970s, that the U.S. Supreme Court began to apply the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to cases of sex discrimination. However, with its 1976 ruling in Craig v. Boren, the Court found that men and women, under certain circumstances, could be treated differently under the law without being in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. With the ERA, those exceptions, which contribute to the gender wage gap, would be eliminated, thus guaranteeing that economic discrimination on the basis of sex would henceforth be illegal.

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