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Equal pay laws have failed in closing the gender wage gap


The higher the income, the wider the gap.

A woman can work the same hours, have the same experience, and do the exact same job as a man and still get paid less. Only women between the ages of 20 and 30 years old are likely to receive "equal" pay. Truthfully, they're receiving 90-98 cents per dollar a man makes. This is legal because of a loophole in gender wage gap laws - employers can use an employee's previous salary to base their current salary.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District made that loophole clear when ruling in favor of Fresno County Office of Education. In 2014, Aileen Rizo filed against the county after seeing a newly hired coworker being placed at step nine of the 10-step pay scale. Despite her 13 years of prior experience and a master's degree, when hired, Rizo was placed at step one. When the county replied to her complaint, she was told an employee's salary is based on prior salary history. This loophole, which can be seen as undervaluing Rizo's work, happens in government jobs as well as the private sector.

Women in the White House are under paid

Based on median salaries, the gap is as large as 37% between male and female staffers yet there are nearly as many women (176) as there are men (198). Differences in job duties will pay accordingly but looking through the Annual Report to Congress on White House Office Personnel, people within the same position can get paid more or less than each other without justification.

Does political affiliation effect the pay gap?

The disparity in pay between men and women White House staffers is much larger than the national gap. Based on the controlled gap data from PayScale the national gap average is 2.4%. While some people conclude political affiliation has something to do with the gender wage gap, that conclusion is politically incorrect. 48 states have their own equal pay laws. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), only 12 of the 29 red states (from the most recent election) have poor equal pay laws. Even some blue states have poor equal pay laws but actress Patricia Arquette's 2015 call for equal pay urged red and blue states to revamp their laws.

Recent state laws still won't equalize the balance

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, North Dakota, and Oregon each signed an equal pay law in 2015. California Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson authored what is called one of the toughest equal pay laws in the country. Under Jackson's bill:

  • Men and women would have to be paid equally for similar work, even if the titles are different or they're in different locations.
  • Businesses wouldn't be able to give an employee another title to justify their lower pay.
  • It also protects employees from retaliation if they ask about or pursue action to get equal wages.

While some are against the bill, vice president of government affairs for AAUW Liz Maatz states the bill would require employers to objectively rank jobs by skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Not even a nice job title or degree makes a difference

Despite more women having degrees, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the median income for women ages 25-34 is $29,429 compared to men's income of $40,401. This happens because women tend to make less than men immediately following graduation, but the gap is small. At age 25, the gap begins at 10 percent. It expands to 55 percent by age 45 for college graduates or 28 percent for non-graduates. The gaps are different because graduates tend to make more money. Yet the devaluation of women's work is worse when it comes to women dominated fields. Look at the library science field (female-dominated) versus the engineering field (male-dominated): researcher Ariane Hegewisch, M.Phil, states applicants usually need a master's degree just to get an interview in the library science field. While normally, engineers make much more than librarians and have the potential to do so starting off with just a bachelor's degree.

Gender wage gap + gender roles = pink ghettos

A large portion of the wage gap can be blamed on gender roles. While some people will say it is due to motherhood, employers will pay women less and offer less opportunities for advancement once they have children assuming they won't be as committed. However, many women keep their same hours after maternity leave. "Even when mothers cut back at work, they are not paid proportionately less. When their pay is calculated on an hourly basis, they are still paid less than men for the hours they work," according to Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times.

Miller's article, "The Gender Pay Gap is Largely Because of Motherhood" explains how married women with children tend to work more and still get paid less. This makes sense of the occupational segregation between men and women. Women, with or without degrees, tend to acquire"pink-ghetto" or "pink-collar" jobs. These are jobs typically held by women that are low-paying with little room for advancement, or just seen as a lesser than blue and white-collar work. Pink-collar jobs are mostly in female-dominated fields while pink ghetto jobs are the lower paying, no advancement jobs. Such jobs are found in the personal care and social services, hospitality, and health fields. Considering the consistent need for jobs within those fields why are these jobs undervalued? The general opinion is that women are attracted to pink-collar/pink ghetto jobs because they're less demanding and allow women the flexibility to work and take care of home as expected by women and men alike. Yet many of the female-dominated jobs within those fields require a degree or certified training like blue/white-collar jobs. A teacher or social worker could easily explain how demanding their jobs are regardless of their gender.

Is the solution a new pay structure?

The same question can be asked about the US Women's National Soccer Team (USWNT). In 2016, five of the team members filed an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) because of wage discrimination. It's no secret women in sports get paid less than their male counterparts. The argument is that women sports don't attract enough attention to generate the same revenue as male sports. However, the 2015 Women's World Cup was the most watched soccer match in US history. The EEOC and USWNT have yet to reach an agreement but co-captain Beck Saurerbrunn told Sports Illustrated's Planet Futbol podcast that the structure of pay the team is pursuing is different from the men's structure. "So equal isn't the right word. It would be equitable, because we are asking for a different structure."

Is a new pay structure the solution to the gender wage gap for women in the workplace? The AAUW estimates the gap won't close until 2152 but a solution is needed sooner than later. If a woman wanted to take time off (quit) to take care of her newborn, she'd normally be penalized when returning to the workforce. But if a woman returns shortly after maternity leave, she's seen as an absentee or "bad" mother. It's time to take a page from U.S. Soccer and the USWNT and start coming up with creative solutions that will permanently fix the gender wage gap.


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