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Pay Equality

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            The issue of pay equity is simple to define, but hard to explain. Statistics have shown time and again that women tend to earn less than men (you can find 1995 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau here). While it is easy to single out sexism as the sole cause of this, I believe there can be other contributing factors too. If we want to erase this wage gap, then we need to be aware of all the things that can help it persist.


            One significant contribution to the problem of pay equity is the trend of women working lower paying jobs. While this is a topic that we are discussing separately from this one, it is a contributing factor to the national wage gap. While we do see more women going into higher paying jobs these days (doctors, lawyers, etc.), men have been in these fields longer. These men have more seniority, and as such, earn more. Although I don’t have any statistics on this, it would be no surprise if a comparison of male and female doctors showed a higher average income for male doctors. This is why it is important to remember these factors, because statistics can be misleading.


            Another thing that has led to women having lower pay is education. Women are starting to catch up to men in education now that they have more freedom and chances to attend college. But even if there were an equal number of men and women earning the same degrees next year, the population as a whole will not feel the effects until this is even for a few decades. Just like seniority, this is something that will require time for women to catch up. As the older generations retire and are replaced by a generation with an equal distribution of educated men and women, we will see these factors disappear.


            There are many websites that discuss pay equity, the following Q&A is can be found here.



Q: What is pay equity?

 A: Pay equity is a means of eliminating sex and race discrimination in the wage-setting system. Many women and people of color are still segregated into a small number of jobs such as clerical, service workers, nurses and teachers. These jobs have historically been undervalued and continue to be underpaid to a large extent because of the gender and race of the people who hold them. Pay equity means that the criteria employers use to set wages must be sex- and race-neutral.


Q: What is the legal status of pay equity?

A: Two laws protect workers against wage discrimination. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits unequal pay for equal or "substantially equal" work performed by men and women. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. In 1981, the Supreme Court made it clear that Title VII is broader than the Equal Pay Act, and prohibits wage discrimination even when the jobs are not identical. However, wage discrimination laws are poorly enforced and cases are extremely difficult to prove and win. Stronger legislation is needed to ease the burden of filing claims and clarify the right to pay equity.


Q. How large is the wage gap?

A. 2000 Median Annual Earnings of Year-Round, Full-Time Workers

Asian and Pacific Islander**

Q. Why is there a wage gap?

A: The wage gap exists, in part, because many women and people of color are still segregated into a few low-paying occupations. More than half of all women workers hold sales, clerical and service jobs. Studies show that the more an occupation is dominated by women or people of color, the less it pays. Part of the wage gap results from differences in education, experience or time in the workforce. But a significant portion cannot be explained by any of those factors; it is attributable to discrimination. In other words, certain jobs pay less because they are held by women and people of color.



Q: Hasn't the wage gap closed considerably in recent years?

A: The wage gap has narrowed by about ten percentage points during the last seventeen years, ranging from 62 percent in 1982 to 73 percent in 2000. Since 1973 however, approximately 60 percent of the change in the wage gap is due to the fall in men's real earnings. About 40 percent of the change in the wage gap is due to the increase in women's wages. The wage gap has fluctuated often, ranging from a low of 57 percent in the early 1970's, and peaking at 74 percent in 1997.


Q: Is it possible to compare different jobs?

A: Yes, employers have used job evaluations for nearly a century to set pay and rank for different occupations within a company or organization. Today, two out of three workers are employed by firms that use some form of job evaluation. The federal government, the nation's largest employer, has a 70-year old job evaluation system that covers nearly two million employees.


Q: Who really needs pay equity?

A: Women, people of color, and white men who work in jobs that have been undervalued due to race or sex bias need pay equity. Many of these workers are the sole support for their families. In addition, it is estimated that 70 percent of women with children under 18 work outside the home. (Up from 44.9 percent twenty years ago.) Discriminatory pay has consequences as people age and across generations. Everyone in society is harmed by wage discrimination. Therefore, everyone needs pay equity.


Q: Is pay equity an effective anti-poverty strategy?

A: Yes, pay equity helps workers become self-sufficient and reduces their reliance on government assistance programs. A recent study found that nearly 40 percent of poor working women could leave welfare programs if they were to receive pay equity wage increases. Pay equity can bring great savings to tax payers at a minimal cost to business. Adjustments would cost no more than 3.7 percent of hourly wage expenses.


Q: Will the wages of white men be reduced if pay equity is implemented?

A: No, Federal law prohibits reducing pay for any employee to remedy discrimination. Furthermore, male workers in female-dominated jobs benefit when sex discrimination is eliminated, as do white workers in minority-dominated jobs. Pay equity means equal treatment for all workers.


Q: Will achieving pay equity require a national wage-setting system?

A: No, pay equity does not mandate across-the-board salaries for any occupation, nor does it tamper with supply and demand. It merely means that wages must be based on job requirements like skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions without consideration of race, sex, or ethnicity.


Q: Doesn't pay equity cost employers too much?

A: In Minnesota, where pay equity legislation meant raises for 30,000 state employees, the cost was only 3.7 percent of the state's payroll budget over a four-year period--less than one percent of the budget each year. In Washington State, pay equity was achieved at a cost of 2.6 percent of the state's personnel costs and was implemented over an eight-year period. Voluntary implementation of pay equity is cost effective, while court-ordered pay equity adjustments can lead to greater costs. Discrimination is costly and illegal.


Q: Are wage inequalities the result of women's choices?

A: Again, part of the wage gap is attributed to differences in education, experiences and time in the work force. However, the overwhelming evidence that wage discrimination persists in America can be found in numerous court cases and legal settlements, Department of Labor investigations, surveys of men and women on the job, and salary surveys that control for age, experience and time in the workforce. While women sometimes take time out of the workforce to raise children, it should be noted that when couples are deciding who should stay home with children, the fact that the wife is earning a lower salary impacts that decision. In addition, some of the other explainable factors can sometimes be attributed to discrimination. For example, if women and men have different jobs in a company, women may not be choosing the lower paying jobs. They may have trouble advancing in a company due to bias about women's abilities or levels of commitment.


Q: Will implementing pay equity disrupt the economy?

A: No. The Equal Pay Act, minimum wage, and child labor laws all provoked the same concerns and all were implemented without major disruption. What disrupts the economy and penalizes families is the systematic underpayment of some people because of their sex or race. When wages for women and people of color are raised, their purchasing power will increase, strengthening the economy. One survey found that a growing number of businesses support the elimination of wage discrimination between different jobs as "good business" and that pay equity is consistent with remaining competitive.


Q: What is the status of efforts to achieve pay equity?

A: Pay equity is a growing national movement building on the progress made in the 1980s, when twenty states made some adjustments of payrolls to correct for sex or race bias. (Seven of these states successfully completed full implementation of a pay equity plan. Twenty-four states including Washington, DC conducted studies to determine if sex was a wage determinant. Four states examined their compensation systems to correct race bias, as well.)


In the last 2-3 years, bills have been introduced in over 25 legislatures. On the federal level, the Fair Pay Act has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, and in the U.S. Senate by Senator Tom Harkin. The Fair Pay Act would expand the Equal Pay Act's protections against wage discrimination to workers in equivalent jobs with similar skills and responsibilities, even if the jobs are not identical. In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Tom Daschle and in the U.S. House by Representative Rosa DeLauro. The Paycheck Fairness Act would amend the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide more effective remedies to workers who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work.


Q: What can I do about pay equity?

A: If you need more information on how to resolve a personal situation involving unfair pay, you can call:


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at 800-669-4000

The Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) Advice and Counseling Hotline at 800-839-4372