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Mind the Gap: Wage Discrimination

Mind the Gap: Wage Discrimination

Do you have an internship? Or even a full-time job? Are you a student worker at your university? Are you saving up for the latest iPhone, or maybe you are saving for that trip to Europe that you have been planning since middle school? Some of you might even be saving for something much bigger: a wedding, student loan repayments, a first apartment, or retirement.

Money is on our minds constantly, partially due to the constant emphasis of capitalism and our fear of falling behind in an increasingly competitive world. There are dollar bill signs everywhere: when we step into Starbucks; when we refill our cars; when we buy birthday cards. Billboards are trying to show how their businesses are the healthiest option for the nation’s economy—and your wallet.

But let me ask these three words: Are you female?

If you answered yes, the world of professionalism and the workforce will change for you. And the reason is comprised of only two words: wage gap. The United States alone ranked 65th out of 142 countries in wage equality.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the wage gap has been in a standstill for a decade. Only in 2007 and 2013 did the gap show a slight difference: American women on average earning from 77 cents to 78 cents of what men earned. In 2014, the percentage dropped to 77 cents again. This statistical standstill is discouraging to females in the workforce because these numbers show a transparency that is sexism, which seems to be often overlooked. Employers as well as employees need to be aware of the disparity that is the wage gap.

The same site states that the wage gap is even more evident as race comes into play. The site does not specify how much a Caucasian woman earns compared to a “white, non-Hispanic man makes.” But it does state that nationwide, an average a woman who works “full time, year round” makes 78 cents of what a white, non-Hispanic man makes. African American women make 64 cents per dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes; Latina American women make even less, earning 56 cents per dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes.

Mothers working full-time year round are paid less than fathers, making on average $40,000 compared to the fathers’ $56,999 per year. This indicates that mothers in households make 70 cents per dollar fathers make. This disparity is concerning taken the fact that the amount of working single-mothers in this country is beginning to increase dramatically. In just 2013, more than 7.3 million families were being taken care of by a single-mother. In the same year, it was found that more than 2 million of families that were being cared for by a single-mother were indicated to be “poor.” According to the same site, 2.5 million additional working single-mother families fell either at or dangerously below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL); of these, 61.9% families live with an average income of $18,800. The FPL is the “set minimum amount of gross income that a family needs for food, clothing, transportation, shelter and other necessities.” Medicaid and other public assistance programs, according to Investopedia, depends on the family’s placement on the FPL, which most of these single-mother families will definitely have a disadvantage of receiving.

Approximately 1.4 million married couples with children relied solely on the mother’s earnings throughout 2013. Families such as these live in constant economic insecurity. They need protection by the law that was supposed to protect them in the first place. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is not doing its proper job of enforcing equal pay for equal work. A single woman with no family to support still only earned 70% of what her male counterpart earned in 2013.

Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Pinterest

As intersections of identity add up, so does discrimination; the sexual orientation of women also plays a role in how much they make in wages. Lesbian women also earn significantly less than men. Lesbian couples’ median personal income in recent findings was $38,000 compared to $47,000 for gay couples, compared to $48,000 for men in heterosexual relationships. 49% of lesbian and bisexual women have a child to support, but only 19% of gay and bisexual men do.

The numbers dwindle with no improvement for women with disabilities. These women earn 69.5% of what men without disabilities earn and 80.8% of what men with disabilities earn. These numbers reveal the discouraging reality of defining certain identify traits of human beings as less desirable and less important, targeting not just females, but also males who are working with disabilities.

Even with more women in universities than ever before, the wage gap is not kind to women with higher levels of education. In 2013, the findings show that women who had a high school diploma earned 76 cents for every dollar men with a high school diploma made. Women who had a bachelor’s degree or higher earned even less, getting paid 73 cents per dollar a male counterpart made. A woman with an associate’s degree, which is a degree granted after two years of study, is still paid less than a man who only has a high school diploma.

These disparities show a huge gap in earnings between men and women. The National Women’s Law Center states that $10,876 were lost in median earnings for women because of this disparity. This means less money for necessities such as groceries, rent and utilities, childcare, health insurance, student loan repayments, and gas for a car. That is not all: acquiring lower lifetime earnings means women will ultimately receive less Social Security benefits. In 2013, women who were 65-years and older received $13,466 per year for their benefit, while their male counterparts received more than $4,000 of what they received. In 2010, just five years ago, women who were 50-years and older received only 56 cents per every dollar men received in income from pensions and annuities.

The impact of the wage gap accumulates over time, as one would already imagine. In a 40-year period, women working full-time, year round on average lost $435,049, which would take more than a decade longer to make up. A woman who has not finished high school would lose $332,704 on average over a 40-year period, compared to a man with the same education level. This is troubling for women who, on average, only get paid $22,248 for a full-time, year round job. These women will need more than fifteen years of working to make up this gap. But the thing is, this gap will never be “made up” within ten or fifteen years because the disparity is yet to be fixed by the law that was supposed to protect women from sex discrimination in the workforce.

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

Even in Norway and Singapore, which according to CNN are the best in the developed world, women earn 80% of what men earn. Why is it so difficult to ask for 100%?

Don’t expect the numbers to improve anywhere else in the world. In the case of the wage gap, the classification of “First World,” “Second World,” or “Third World” does not correlate to the amount of wage disparity in different countries. For example, according to the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, Italian women did not even earn half of what their male counterparts earned; they made a mere 48% of their male counterparts’ income. Surprising numbers come from Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries. The women in Burundi earn 83% of their male counterparts’ salaries, which is more than what their white and Asian counterparts earn in New York City.

Photo: CNN Money

Photo: CNN Money

As you may have guessed, the world is not kind, either, in giving women the same opportunities as men in professionalism: Algeria, Iran, and Syria have the fewest amount of women in the labor force, with less than 20% working outside their homes. This may be due to the lack of opportunities for education. In the 142 countries that were surveyed by the World Economic Forum for the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, only 25 countries had equal access to education for girls and women.

Sadly, it is very true that we do not see many powerful female figures in the workforce compared to male figures. If we continue to deny this simple yet disturbing truth, we cannot expect to bring about significant change. Do we need laws and the enforcement of these laws in order to stand on equal footing with men? Yes, I believe so, if that is what is takes for my female friends, my sisters, my future daughters, and every other female to earn dollar for every dollar a man earns.

One of the main problems that women face in the workforce—that also contribute to the wage gap—is sex stereotypes. As showcased in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, women constantly deal with gender roles that are beginning to become outdated. This will inevitably lead to fewer opportunities for advancement in their professional career, as well as fewer opportunities to be trained for higher paying jobs. Traditionalism and conservatism in the workforce include ideas that work against women, such as these unconscious and conscious biases: Women can’t do men’s jobs, women are not “breadwinners”, women are caretakers, so on and so forth.

There are also sexist interviewing practices by employers. This may be done consciously and unconsciously, confining women who are being interviewed in difficult positions where marriages and future pregnancies can be deemed as hazardous to the growth of their professional careers. This not only reinforces the imagined role of women being the only caretakers in households, but also defines women’s roles in the workforce more temporary than men’s. As dangerous as this idea may be, it is also being slowly dismantled as the striking number of single-mother families show that women can also be “breadwinners.” The number of influential and powerful women is also on the rise. From Janet Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve Bank, to businesswomen such as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, more women are beginning to fight traditional notions of working in “male-dominated” fields. 

Photo: Forbes

Photo: Forbes

Is it embedded in history that the professional workforce is discriminating against women? Yes.

According to a study conducted by Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn from Stanford University, history has proven that more women graduated high school than men, but less women progressed onto college-level education. The study also reasons that before World War II, “women moved in and out of the labor market based on family considerations,” leaving their jobs permanently to support marriage and children. Jobs were also segregated by sex in the 1950s and 1960s, furthering a chasm that divided professionalism into polarizing matters based on gender.

Today, compared to half a century ago, more women go onto receive college educations, comprising over half of the student body in most universities. In addition, many women decide to continue their professional careers despite the societal notion of having to “take care” of children. In fact, many Fortune 100 women are leading businesswomen, politicians, and CEOs despite being married and having children.

Maybe this will be more straightforward: discrimination based on gender is against the law in America. Women cannot continue to earn less than men who hold the same jobs and responsibilities. Yes, there should be no blame placed on men; they also face stereotypes that work against them. It will take time to overcome any stereotypes, and it will be very difficult to erase the stereotypes made against women. But we can still hope that the Paycheck Fairness Act is the big step we need for these centuries-old stereotypes to start dissolving. No more baby steps. We need this bill.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and civil rights laws have helped lessen wage discrimination over time, but it is still not enough. We need the Paycheck Fairness Act in order to have a chance at dissolving, if not diminishing, the wage gap. And all we need is that one chance to make gender equality be a movement of inspiration and unstoppable impetus, not one at a standstill.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in January 23rd of 2013 in the Senate. Its official title was “A bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes.” The latest action for hearing of this bill was in April of last year, by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. There has been no action since.

Photo:  Ebony

Photo: Ebony

This bill is co-sponsored by senators who have been supporting this movement from the introduction of the bill in 2013. Many others have joined throughout 2013 and 2014, the latest sponsor being Senator John E. Walsh (D-MT). Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), commonly known as Berni Sanders, who people may also know as one of the many candidates running in the 2016 presidential race, also supports the bill. In total, 56 Senators, all Democrats except Sanders, have signed their approval and support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. It has been dated since 2012 that Sanders has been supporting equal pay for women. In a statement released on his site, he says mentions how closing the wage gap has “made some progress,” but there is still “a long way to go.” His recent mention of the Paycheck Fairness Act in a press conference at the National Press Club also goes on to show that Sanders has been committed to equal pay consistently and is not afraid to mention the need for the bill to be passed.

Although I support the enactment of the bill, it still contains precarious provisions. What is worrisome about the PFA is its vague wording. I know that numerous other pieces of legislation have come and gone with vague wording, such as the American Constitution, but this is not the Constitution we are talking about. We are discussing the possibility of equal pay for equal work, which should have been enforced ever since the Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963. There will be compromises and more negotiations if this bill will see the light of day of approval by supermajority vote. This bill is being judged and evaluated, in majority, by male figures in the legislative branch, whose decisions have a significant impact on a bill that is so essential for many female constituents.

The bill, more specifically, tries to fix the portion of Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to enforce and provide exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in salaries. The question is: How do employers go on about doing that? And how can employees who face this discrimination use the law to their favor? The answer might lie in a rather precarious provision: the bona fide factors.

The bona fide factors include: levels of education, training, and experiences, which are, as stated in the bill, exceptions to prohibition of wage discrimination based on gender. Employers may use this factor to their advantage only if the employers can show the factor is not “based upon or derived from sex-based differential in compensation”; if the factor is “job-related with respect to the position in question”; or if the factor is “consistent with business necessity”.

But the bill states that the bona fide factors will not apply if an employee, not the employer, can prove that there is an “alternative employment practice…that [serves] the same business purpose” without bringing about sex discrimination, but is not being used by the employer.

Photo:  Blog

Photo: Blog

The bona fide factors are important and necessary components to the bill. Today in the United States, more women are entering universities than ever before; levels of education is not the factor to worry about. What needs to be given more attention is women’s level of training and experiences because these are the factors that have the potential to work against women and prolong gender-based wage discrimination. Women are already lacking in levels of training because of numerous sex stereotypes that prevent them from gaining access to such opportunities. Women also lack levels of experience because the workforce has been male-dominated. These are the truths; let us stop turning our eyes away from them.

Other than some of the bona fide factors, the bill is quite useful and promising. From requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to “train their employees and affected individuals” about wage discrimination to giving the Secretary of Labor the power to give grants to “eligible entities for negotiation skills training programs for girls and women,” the Paycheck Fairness Act gives backbone and support for the gender that has been undermined in the workforce.

There are awards, such as the Secretary of Labor’s National Award for Pay Equity in the Workplace, which would be awarded to an employer “who has made a substantial effort to eliminate pay disparities between men and women.” This would definitely be an incentive for employers who are willing to give up old morale and start enforcing equal pay themselves. What if the employer is winning this award based on sophistry? Well, another provision of the bill counterbalances that problem. The Secretary of Labor is required to conduct studies so that information about wage discrimination can be spread to “employers, labor organizations, and the general public.”

The wage gap puts women behind men because society has long defined gender with roles and stereotypes that we have all blindly followed for the past several centuries. In order for us to overcome this disparity, we need more than dedication and belief. We need full-on action. It is time to pay full attention to wage discrimination, not in America alone, but also in every single country that is giving unfair wages to female workers.

Let us not, as deserving citizens of this nation, ever say that 78% is enough. We have come a long way from where we began more than a century ago. The fight for women’s rights is still going strong and we should not let the fire burn out as it is just beginning to light up. 78%, and the even lower percentages that women of color, LGBT women, and women with disabilities face, are never enough and we should all accept that as the defining truth. There should be enforcement of the laws that guarantee women dollar for dollar of what men earn and the reason should be as straightforward as the fundamentality of human rights. It is not a question of gender against gender. Women have spoken many, many times for the movement that promised equality. Men of Congress and the White House, as well as the Judicial Branch, men of homes and businesses, men of wives and daughters and sisters, it is your time to speak with us. Not for us, not against us, but with us.

The World Economic Forum has estimated that it will take another 81 years for “equal pay for equal work” to be enforced in full power. We should not ask ourselves what we could do in the next 81 years to make this statement true to its words, but we should ask ourselves what we need to do to make this statement true tomorrow. Let American be the example to lead other countries to grant equal pay for equal work. Don’t let the Paycheck Fairness Act get lost under neglect by the Congress. Let’s act as we always have, with passion and belief. Let us stop hoping for more and start expecting for more because we deserve the right to be paid equally.

- Yeho Hwang


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