Equal Pay in 2021: What's the Status of Pay Disparity in the U.S. Today?
Do you believe wage discrimination against women is a problem in 2021?
As the economy begins to pick up and hiring increases across many sectors, women who dropped out of the workforce in droves last year due to layoffs, childcare needs, and family care obligations may be looking to return to work. However, multiple hurdles, including career gaps, patchy school reopening plans and the persistent pay gap in the U.S. may stand in their way.
This year, March 24, 2021 (Equal Pay Day) marked how far into the year women need to work in order to earn what men earned in the previous year. This reflected the fact that U.S. women need to work an additional 92 days to earn what men earn over the course of a year.
What does the data say about the wage disparity between men and women?
“This study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices made by both male and female workers.”
Claims that women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men have been enthusiastically embraced by some and brushed aside as a statistical myth by others in pursuit of their respective policy goals. A deeper examination of the issue done by the American Association of University Women put the figure closer to 91 cents for every dollar men earn. Another analysis in Slate highlighted observations that such figures are an oversimplification of a complex issue, which discount personal choices made by male and female workers.
In 2020, U.S. women earned 81 cents per dollar earned by men. This gap widened for women of color, who earned 75 cents per dollar earned by white men.
According to data by PayScale, women are making 82 cents for every dollar a man makes in 2021. However, it's possible that this one cent gain is attributable to lower-paid women leaving the workforce due to layoffs or the need to provide family care during the pandemic. In fact, women's labor force participation is currently at a 33-year low due to more women taking on caretaker roles at home due to remote schooling.
How does race affect wage disparity?
In January 2019, the National Partnership for Women & Families contended:
"Today, women who work full time, year-round are paid, on average, only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, resulting in a gap of $10,169 each year. The gap exists in every state, regardless of geography, occupation, education or work patterns. And it is worse for women of color: On average, Latinas are typically paid 53 cents, Native American women 58 cents and Black women just 61 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. White, non- Hispanic women are paid 77 cents and Asian women 85 cents for every dollar paid to white, non- Hispanic men, although some ethnic subgroups of Asian women fare much worse."
More recently, 2021 data from PayScale shows that all men continue to outearn the women within their racial-ethnic groups. American Indian and Alaska Native women experience the largest uncontrolled pay gaps relative to white men, earning 69 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. This represents a worsening by six cents as compared to 2020 when American Indian and Alaska Native women earned 75 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.
What efforts are being made to address wage disparity?
In the current session of Congress, the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7) would revise existing enforcement mechanisms to prevent wage discrimination based on gender. It would also make it easier for employees to sue for gender-based wage discrimination unless pay differences are related to education, training, or experience. It passed the Democrat-controlled House on a party-line vote of 217-210 but is unlikely to get the bipartisan support needed to move through the Senate in its current form.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is another potential means of addressing wage disparity. The Equal Rights Amendment was written by Alice Paul, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement and women’s rights activist, in 1923. Paul rewrote the ERA to its current wording in 1943, modeling it on the language of the 19th Amendment. The final, current ERA has three provisions:
- Equality of rights under the shall not be abridged or denied by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
- Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
- This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
The ERA could be used to address wage disparities if it's successfully ratified, which requires a two-thirds majority vote by both chambers of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states (38 states). The House recently passed a bill to eliminate a deadline for the ERA's ratification that was put in place when states were ratifying it in the 1970s and 1980s and the ERA fell short of the ratification threshold when the initial deadline and a subsequent extension were reached.
Sound off in the comments: do you believe wage disparities between men and women, or between different groups of women, are a problem?
—Lorelei Yang & Eric Revell
(Image Credit: iStockphoto.com / Feodora Chiosea)
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