More like 49 cents.
Every year on Equal Pay Day, we hear that women in America make about 80 cents for every dollar men earn. For many women of color, the number is lower — black women make about 61 cents on the dollar compared with men, while Latina women make 53 cents.
But matters are actually worse than any of these numbers would suggest, according to a 2018 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research(IWPR), a think tank that looks at public policy through the lens of gender. Measures of the pay gap typically compare the wages of men and women working full time in a given year, as Emily Peck notes at HuffPost. But women are more likely to drop out of full-time work to take care of children or other family members.
To account for this, the report’s authors looked at women’s earnings across a 15-year period, and compared those with men’s. What they found was a pay gap nearly twice as big as what’s traditionally reported: averaged out over 15 years, women made just 49 cents for every dollar men made.
Men lost income when they dropped out of the labor force too, of course. But women were far more likely to drop out, and when they did, the wage penalty was more severe. Those inequalities, the report argues, are key to understanding the wage gap — and, ultimately, closing it.
America has stalled on equal pay
Things got worse last year, not better. And women of color face the biggest gap
Last year, the wage gap actually got slightly bigger. In 2018, women’s earnings were 81.1 percent of men’s, down from 81.8 percent in 2017, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The drop was especially pronounced for black women, whose earnings went from 67.7 percent of white men’s in 2017 to 65.3 percent in 2018; and Latina women, whose earnings dropped from 62.1 percent to 61.6 percent of white men’s. White women’s earnings dropped from 81.9 percent to 81.5 percent of white men’s.
Those drops aren’t huge, and wage gap numbers always fluctuate a bit from year to year, Ariane Hegewisch, the program director on employment and earnings at the IWPR. But they point to something bigger: After relatively swift progress in the 1980s, the wage gap has been stagnating for years. And women of color face especially large disparities. “Progress in terms of closing the gender wage gap is smaller than it has ever been,” Hegewisch said.
It’s hard to know the exact reason behind the widening gaps for black and Latina women in 2018. But the salary picture in different sectors of the economy may play a role, Hegewisch said. The country has seen growth in service jobs like domestic work, where black and Latina women are overrepresented. Those jobs tend to pay a low wage, which may account for some of the growing gap.
For all women, progress toward pay equity has slowed
The fact that women lost some ground relative to men in 2018 is reflective of a larger trend — while the wage gap narrowed dramatically in the ’80s, that process has slowed in recent years.
Between 2009 and 2018, the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings has changed less than 1 percent, Hegewisch said.
Improved access to paid leave would help close the wage gap, both for women as a whole and for black and Latina women specifically, she added. So would improving pay for child care and other care workers.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House last week, would also help women by banning employers from asking prospective employees about salary history, Fink said. The bill would also eliminate workplace rules that keep workers from discussing their salaries with one another.
“Year after year, we talk about the wage gap,” Fink added, “and there is a solution on the table.”
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