War of the Sexes More Like War of the Wages!

Guest blog by
Source: Soroptimist International of Chicago
Submitted by: Marion E. Gold. President of Marion Gold & Co.
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog!

When American Suffragist Susan B. Anthony said, "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less."  She was right.  Unfortunately, 37 years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, woman still is paid less than man. Sorry Susan—looks like we have not "come a long, long way!" President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, hoping it would end wage discrimination based on sex. At that time, women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. And, the wage gap has been closing—but at less than half a penny per year.  

Since 1960, and in 1998 dollars, the great divide between women's and men's earnings has only closed by $1,203. (Data from the Census Bureau March Current Population Survey.) About 60 percent of the improvement in the wage gap from 1979 to 1997 can be attributed to the decline in men's real earnings.  Approximately 40 percent of the closing of the gap is a result of women's better earning power. 

In 1998, women earned only 73 percent of the wages earned by men. Not much different than in 1996—except that the problem grows larger as more women and people of color enter the job market. By the year 2006, it is estimated that women and people of color will account for two-thirds of all new entrants into the workforce. Nearly 69 million women had jobs in 1998, making up 47 percent of workers 15 years and older.

Women of color experience the most severe pay inequities. Hispanic women earned only 53 cents, African-American women earned only 63 cents, and white women 73 cents for each dollar earned by a white man who faces no sex or race-based wage discrimination. Men of color also experience significant wage inequities. Hispanic men earned only 62 percent, and African-American men earned only 75 percent of the wages of white men. 

Contrary to data from the Employment Policy Foundation, The National Academy of Sciences reports that between one-third and one-half of the wage difference between men and women cannot be explained by differences in experience, education, or other legitimate qualifications. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for 1998, women earned more than men in only two of nearly 100 detailed occupational categories: food preparation and legal assistants. In all other categories, women still lag behind the guys. For example, women dry cleaning machine operators made 10 percent less than men operators; women accountants made 25 percent less, women in administrative support made 19 percent less, and women educators and reporters made 24 percent less.

Women in unions do a bit better, earning $166 more per week on the average than those women who were not union members. Union women also earned weekly wages that were slightly more than men who were not union members.

But don’t let those figures fool you. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, although working mothers who are union members earn $1.25 an hour more than nonunion working mothers—the same women gain only about 30 cents per hour for five additional years of work experience, compared to their white men counterparts who gain $1.20 for the same number of years work experience. 

Even women who have reached the highest levels of corporate America are not immune to wage discrimination. In November 1999, a Catalyst survey of Fortune 500 top earners showed that women take home 68 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

The lifetime cost to women can be devastating. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a 25 year-old woman who works full-time year-round for the next 40 years will earn $523,000 less than the average 25 year-old man will, if the current wage patterns continue. Worse, the gap widens as women mature. Among workers 16-24, the wage gap is only 91 percent; yet by age 55-64, women are earning only 68 percent of men's earnings. Lower lifetime earnings translate into lower pensions and income for women in their senior years and contributes to a higher poverty rate for elderly women.            

Are women’s choices to blame? 

While some may argue that the wage gap is a result of women's choices — mainly women taking time out of the workforce to have children —  there is much more to the story than "choice." There is no doubt that time, education and experience play a role in pay rates—but only when you compare men to men! When women enter the picture — it changes drastically. 

Here are just a few of the facts from the National Committee on Pay Equity:  

- A survey of public relations professionals shows that women with less than 5 years of experience make $29,726 while men with the same amount of experience make $48,162. For PR professionals in the 5-10 year category, women earn $41,141 while men earn $47,888. In the 10-15 year category, women earn $44,941 and men earn $54,457. In the 15-20 year range, women earn $49,270 and men earn $69,120.

- Women in the field of purchasing with 3 or fewer year’s experience earn $35,900 and men earn $47,700. For purchasers with 4-6 years experience, men earn $52,100 while women earn $38,300. Women purchasers who have 7 -10 years of experience earn $42,300 while their men counterparts earn $56,400. For those with 11- 15 years experience, women earn $43,500 and men earn $63,400.

- Among video programmers, women with advanced degrees earn 64.6 percent of the earnings of their men counterparts, and women with college degrees earn 80 percent on the dollar earned by men.

Wage discrimination is much more than a so-called "women’s issue."  

In today’s society, with the earnings of "wives" and "mothers" so essential to family support, pay equity is a "bread and butter" issue, according to a national study reported by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In analyzing data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they jointly reported that "working families" pay a steep price for unequal pay.

Almost two thirds of the 50,000-working women who responded to the 1997 AFL-CIO survey said they provide one half or more of their families’ incomes. More than 25 percent report they are heads of households with dependent children. 

Still need convincing that pay equity is critical to this country’s economic health?  

It is estimated that America’s working families lose $200 billion of income annually to the wage gap—an average loss of more than $4,000 for each working family every year. Although some states fare better than others, a reduced wage gap does not necessarily coordinate with improved economic status for women and their families. For example, women earn the most in comparison to men in our Nation’s capitol—Washington, DC. But the primary reason is that the wages of minority men is so low.

This is bleak news when considering that working women represent the bridge out of poverty for many married couples and working families. A 1997 labor department analysis found that 7.7 percent fewer white families, 11.4 percent few African-American families, and between 9 percent and 25 percent fewer Hispanic families are poor because both husbands and wives are working. 

- If married women were paid the same as comparable men, their family incomes would rise by nearly six percent, and their families’ poverty rates would fall from 2.1 percent to 12.6 percent.

- If single women earned as much as comparable men, their incomes would rise by 13.4 percent, and their poverty rates would be reduced from 6.3 percent to one percent. 

Bottom line is that if single working mothers achieved pay equity, their poverty rates would be cut in half, according to the AFL-CIO Sorry fellas. This is not a women’s issue—it is a national issue.

Simply put, pay discrimination based on gender hurts all of us—as individuals, as families, and as a nation. Because of pay discrimination, literally hundreds of thousands of households will have less groceries, make fewer doctors visits, and have less money to put aside for retirement. Does pay equity mean setting up a national wage-setting system? Of course not! But it does mean that wages must be based on job requirements like skill and responsibility— not skin color, religious beliefs, age or gender.  Will pay equity solve every problem? Of course not! But when the day comes that wages are truly equitable, people—individuals and their families—will grow healthier, stronger and more confident. And so will our businesses and our economy! 

The facts and figures presented in this article were provided by Soroptimist International of the Americas and compiled by the National Committee on Pay Equity from the following sources: The U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau;  The U. S. Department of Labor; the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; and the Institute for Women's Policy Research. 

Marion Gold is the author of two books on women in the workforce and writes frequently on women’s advocacy issues. She was recently named the Year 2000 Communicator of Achievement by the Illinois Woman's Press Association.