Tightening the Pay Gap: didn’t we already do this?

Rick Bartow

Today is Equal Pay Day. President Obama made a speech, and events were held on campus and across the country to bring light to the pay gap between women and men in the United States-and furthermore to the pay gap between white women and women of color.

Didn’t we already do this?

Days like these, which aim to show the still skewed balance of rights in our country, make me want to hide in my room and scream into a pillow. Our mothers and grandmothers fought this fight already. We “won” through the women’s rights movement. Men and women are equals: well, evidently not. It is 2014 and it seems we may have taken a few steps back.

So what is a “pay gap”? 

The pay gap is the average difference in pay between two groups of people. In this case, the difference in pay for women and for men.

On average, in the 1980s, women made 64 cents to every dollar that a man made: a 36 cent pay gap.

In 2012, in certain parts of the country, women made 84 cents to every dollar that a man made: a 16 cent pay gap. Some sources claim a 23 cent pay gap in 2012.

Furthermore, the pay gap differs from state to state. Here in Oregon, the pay gap is 21 cents. In Washington it is 22 cents. In Wyoming, the pay gap appears to be stuck in the 80s: with women making 64 cents to every dollar a man makes.

Why does the pay gap still exist?

Male dominated fields, like science and engineering, tend to be higher paying jobs than female dominated fields: like office work. 2/3 of the country’s minimum wage workers are female, which of course brings us to the other issue of raising the minimum wage. That, however, is a topic for another post. Even when a female and a male with comparable grades graduate with the same degree at the same time, within a year it is likely that the male counterpart will be making more than the female.

The President’s twitter (of course not actually run by the President himself) was riddled today with quotes and facts.

“This is personal for me. I’ve got two daughters, and I expect them to be treated just like anybody’s sons.” -President Barack Obama

Perhaps the most important was a comment calling the Senate to pass a bill called the Paycheck Fairness Act. It is important to remember that the decisions of this country do not weight entirely on the President’s ideas. He fights, just like we do, to get our government to understand and support what is important.

What does the Paycheck Fairness Act entail?

Already rejected twice by the Senate, this bill would amend the 1963 Equal Pay Act. “This bill would make it illegal for employers to retaliate against a worker who inquires about or discloses their wages or the wages of another employee in a complaint or investigation. It also makes employers liable to civil actions. And as part of this bill, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be required to collect pay information from employers.” 

Essentially, this bill provides protection from discrimination that still exists, and holds employers responsible for fair pay. Keep in mind, most of the statistics I’ve referred to do not take into account the even wider pay gap for women of color: and fail to even touch on the subject of discrimination against those in the LGBT* community.

When I was younger, my mother explained to me why my name is gender neutral. Pointing at the discrimination she had experienced for being a woman, being pregnant, and being married, she told me that a gender neutral name on my resume would prevent unwarranted gender bias. Being 12 years old, and more interested in which photos to post on Facebook, I laughed. We had learned about the women’s rights movement in school: after all that fighting my mom thought it wasn’t over? I threw her thoughts aside.

Being 18 now, and planning to graduate with a Bachelors degree by the age of 19, I’m forced to reexamine my ignorance. When I enter the workforce I’m going to be a young, mixed race woman. None of these things should factor into my ability to get a job: yet all of them will. If I am to get a job, these things will factor into how I am paid. It’s nearly 100 years after the women’s rights movement, and chances are I still won’t make as much as a man.

Maybe, to some people, it’s crazy to suggest that human beings get paid for the quality of their work and not what lies between their legs. To me, it’s just common sense. 

For more information, or to find fact sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/04/08/paycheck-fairness-act-has-already-failed-twice-will-the-third-time-be-the-charm/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/08/on-equal-pay-day-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/08/3424043/gender-wage-gap-myth/

By Quinn Murphy

2 comments on “Tightening the Pay Gap: didn’t we already do this?”

  1. Quinn,

    You say there is a disparity between men and women with respect to pay, but you don’t identify the cause of the disparity. Fortunately for both you and your readers, the answer is in the Pew article. The writer says “women were more likely to say they had taken career interruptions to care for their family.” Did you read the article the writer mentioned? Consider that one for a moment.

    Blau and Kahn write that convergence slowed down in the last couple decades because women’s participation in the labor market tapered of in the 1990s and there were “less favorable demand shifts for women” in the same decade (18) . Stated differently, women are, and have been, underrepresented in the labor market compared to men, and structural changes in the economy benefited a corresponding set of skills (human capital), which are predominantly acquired by men. You did state that science and engineering are “male dominated fields.”

    Did you read the part where the disparity could be attributed to how labor is divided at home (21)? I mentioned that in my first paragraph; it’s also the consequence of deliberate actions, whereby a couple elects to have and to care for a child. If it was up to me, I’d do my best to ensure that work at home is equally divided, but I don’t know if I represent the majority of American households.

    In Businessweek, a writer mentions Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, who wrote an article that appears in a recent issue of the AER. All you need to read is the abstract, where she writes that “the gender gap in pay … might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours.” When law, accounting, and finance firms bill by the hour, women are certainly going to be affected come year-end bonus time if they allocate more time at home. However, in pharmacies, compensation is “generally the same” for both men and women w/o any consideration to the number of hours worked.

    If it’s any consolation at all, there is no pay gap in the US Armed Forces. You might explore the possibilities of a commission in the military; starting out as an O-1 (second lieutenant or ensign), you will be making just as much as your male peers in four years as an O-3. 🙂

    — Gabriel Dougherty

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