With various legal and cultural trends over the last several decades, more women are now working than ever before. However, deep inequalities are still apparent on the labor-side of employment. Although many women work in top jobs and occupations in the U.S. economy, only a select few women enter higher levels of office. In addition, economic literature has found that most women earn less than men in the same occupation.
$.77 on the Dollar
According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), women make up more than half of the U.S. labor force and are the breadwinner of 4 out of 10 U.S. households as of 2012. In addition, more women than ever are earning bachelor and graduate degrees. However, within the same exact occupation, women on average earn $.77 for every $1 a man earns. This trend is seen across all occupations across every different market in the U.S. The total average means that for many occupations, there is a gender wage gap of 23% between women and men for the same job. The IWPR claims that if current legal and private sector work reforms stay the same, it will take until 2058 for women to earn exactly $1 for every $1 a man earns.
More Behind the Numbers
According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), the average woman takes home about $10,784 less per year than a man in the same occupation. This wage gap hurts a single or married woman’s wealth and their ability to contribute investments toward their children, education, retirement, or taxes. Between race or ethnicity, white women earn 21.9% less than white men, black women earn 10.2% less than black men, Latinas earn 8.7% less than Latinos, and Asian American women earn 20.3% less than Asian American men according to CAP. CAP even found that single women earn 21.2% less than married women in the same occupation.
What Explains This and How to Fix It?
This is where political and economic analysis may conflict with one another. According to CAP, the major reasons for this pay inequality come from social and political issues. Socially, most women actively choose low-wage occupations, such as secretaries, retail personnel, or waitresses. That means a huge percentage of even high-academically achieved women go for jobs with significantly low wages. Politically, workplaces have lost much of their collective and individual bargaining powers over the last few decades. Proposed legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, would give legal remedies and opportunities for women to see if they are paid less than their male co-workers.
Many economists and groups focus on the labor-related issues to this wage gap. The National Woman’s Law Center (NWLC) argues that 2/3s of all minimum wage earners are women. Increasing the minimum wage would then help millions of women workers attain higher wages. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) concurs with raising the minimum wage to help most female workers, but still argues legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, is needed to address the pay equity differences within the same occupation. For example, if women earned the same amount of money as men in their occupations, the EPI estimates that the poverty level for women, 8.1%, would fall to 3.9%. However, there are differing views.
The Heritage Foundation finds the social reason that CAP listed as the main reason for pay equity differences. The Heritage Foundation argues that women make choices of their own based on their needs and work preferences (part-time work, flexible schedules, etc.) to manage their personal wants, like raising a family. In addition, what the Heritage Foundation has found is the $.77 figure is calculated incorrectly and, according to their studies, women of the same academic and experience levels earn the same as their male peers. What should be promoted is more entrepreneurship and women in the workplace, not government remedies.
The Dark Truth
Although economists and thinkers of many political stripes argue about details, the fact of the matter is there are labor issues facing women at the moment. Whether the country needs to promote the private sector to employ more women to leadership roles, or we need to help wages increase, or we must have labor laws that stipulate a woman’s wage be the same as a male peers, something has to be done to help today’s wages for women.