Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: We should all want pay equity

Gov. Jerry Brown applauds World War II female factory workers at the Rosie the Riveter National Monument, where he signed the nation’s strongest equal pay law last October.
Gov. Jerry Brown applauds World War II female factory workers at the Rosie the Riveter National Monument, where he signed the nation’s strongest equal pay law last October. Bay Area News Group/TNS

It’s well-known that women typically make less than men, 79 cents on the dollar. Most of us also have an inkling that the gender pay gap is worse for African American and Hispanic women.

For instance, compared to white men, Asian American women had the smallest pay gap, making 90 percent, while Latinas had the biggest, earning just 54 percent, according to a study out this week.

The analysis, compiled by the American Association of University Women, also highlights numbers that aren’t common knowledge. For instance, the gender pay gap is actually wider for white and Asian American women compared to men within their ethnic group than for black and Hispanic women because minority men make less, too.

The gender gap widens as workers get older; until age 35, women earn 90 percent of what men do. And while more education increases earnings, the gender difference gets larger in many cases – which must be particularly painful to admit for a group that bills itself as the “nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls.”

According to its study, pay equity has improved since the 1970s because of women’s advances in education and in the job market, but also because men’s wages have been rising more slowly. The progress has slowed over the last decade; at the current rate, the gap won’t disappear for more than a century.

So what to do?

The study urges companies to do salary audits to uncover gender pay differences. A growing number of tech startups in Silicon Valley are joining more established companies in reviewing pay rates.

The group also calls on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to give more incentives to employers to provide equal pay, to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws and ban retaliation against workers who ask about wages.

As on so many progressive public policies, California is leading the way, passing the nation’s strongest equal pay law last year. It requires employers to prove a man’s higher pay is based on factors other than gender, protects workers from retaliation if they ask how much co-workers earn and gives workers the right to sue over unfair pay.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, will likely boost pay equity in California, where women make 84 percent of what men do, ranking eighth best in the nation. However, the Legislative Women’s Caucus says that California’s women still lose $39 billion in income a year.

Thursday, the caucus unveiled its 2016 economic equity agenda, including a bill that would ban employers from seeking job candidates’ past salaries. “The idea to base a new wage on the old, possibly discriminatory wage, simply perpetuates the discrimination,” the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, said in a statement.

Instead, she said, a woman should be judged on her qualifications and paid accordingly.

Isn’t that what we all want?

By the numbers

Median annual earnings for full-time female workers in 2014, the ratio compared to male employees, and rankings for selected states:

  • 2. New York: $44,781, 87%
  • 5. Nevada: $35,993, 85%
  • 6. Florida: $34,768, 85%
  • 8. California: $42,486, 84%
  • 9. Arizona: $36,916, 84%
  • 12. Oregon: $38,801, 82%
  • 13. Colorado: $41,690, 82%
  • 30. Texas: $36,428, 79%
  • 36. Washington: $41,926, 77%
  • 50. Utah: $34,351, 67%

Source: American Association of University Women