Why 2017 Pay Comes Late for Women

By Eduardo Hernandez

Equal Pay Day, which marks the point to which the average woman must work in the current year to earn what the average man earned the previous year, is a terrible reminder that our country continues to fall short in addressing the gender wage gap. For 2018, women had to work until April 10, to earn what the average man earned in 2017. Census data show the harsh reality that women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. This will not change until we fully address such factors as gender segregation across occupations, women’s unpaid work, wage secrecy, and gender-based discriminatory assumptions about performance. We must dismantle archaic societal expectations that force women—and rarely men—out of the labor force to care for a loved one or address other family responsibilities.

Systemic racism underlies the pervasive gender wage gap. Women of color are disproportionately affected by the wage gap when compared to their white non-Hispanic male counterparts. For example, Black women—who earn 63 cents for every non-Hispanic white man’s dollar—will have to wait until August 7 for their Equal Pay day. Latinas will wait until November 1 for their Equal Pay day, since they earn 54 cents to a non-Hispanic white man’s dollar. At the end of the day, women—and people of color more broadly—must deal with the plight of stereotypes and racial discrimination that hinder their advancement in the workplace.

Since the 1950s, women have made important strides in educational attainment and participation in the labor force. However, data show that women are largely overrepresented in low-wage jobs, comprising two-thirds of all low-wage workers earning $10.10 or less an hour. This is even more alarming as projections find that low-wage employment is the fastest growing sector of jobs. In addition to paying low wages, these jobs often lack such core standards and benefits as paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, and fair and predictable schedules. Without these job quality standards the wage gap can widen and even lead to greater economic insecurity. For example, many low-wage workers, especially mothers, lose their jobs due to a lack of paid sick days. To add to the poor quality of low-wage jobs, many employers use volatile scheduling practices, which contribute to the gender wage gap by allowing unpredictable and unstable schedules to wreak havoc on low-wage workers and their families. This manifests in barriers for workers to arrange transportation, attend job trainings, hold a second job, and maintain a stable income.

It is no secret that working mothers also face systematic disadvantages that create a motherhood wage penalty and harm their career advancement and salary prospects. Ironically, parenthood can have the opposite effect on men by increasing their earnings. In one study, fathers were recommended for higher pay and were perceived as more committed to their jobs than men without children. This finding is the complete opposite for working mothers who lose out more on lifetime earnings in comparison to men when they must temporarily exit the labor force. A comprehensive federal paid family leave policy—like the FAMILY Act—can address this problem by providing a solution that supports women and creates opportunities to stay attached to the labor force.

It is 2018. There should be no wage gap between women and men’s earnings—but this is not the case. We must continue to push policy solutions that spur wage growth for women, people of color, and low-wage workers. Common-sense federal policies like the Schedules that Work Act and the Healthy Families Act can correct earnings disparities and help to close this stubborn wage gap. Our culture should value work-life balance. Progress will remain slow, at best, if racism and gendered-workplace inequities continue to perpetuate the wage gap.