Commentary

Shortchanged: Gender and race discrimination in the workplace, and how to fix it

Image: ThinkProgress.org

Imagine a country where employees’ salaries hinge on their gender and race. White women are paid 20 cents less per dollar than white men, and women of color are paid even less:  African American women get 63 cents on the dollar, and Latinas get 54 cents. And imagine a president who ignored the disparity, and who deleted any reference to the wage gap from his administration’s website.

Did you imagine the United States of America? Neither gender or race should affect salary, but fifty-four years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and several civil rights laws, they still do. Today is National Equal Pay Day- the date until which women must work to earn the same amount as men earned the previous year.

In North Carolina women fair slightly better than average. They get paid 86 cents per dollar paid the average man, but the pay gap depends on their residence. In U.S. Representative Robert PIttenger’s district (R) NC-9, women make 73.1 cents to the men’s dollar, the worst disparity in the state according to research by the AAUW.  The least disparity – 96.8 cents to the dollar – is in NC-4, David Price’s district (D).

For Asian American women, the disparity increases to 78 cents per dollar paid to white men; 64 cents per dollar for African American women; 59 cents per dollar for Native American women; and 48 cents per dollar for Hispanic and Latina women.

The wage gap does not depend on education and strikes almost every industry. As Forbes magazine recently reported, “Women with doctoral degrees are paid less than men with master’s degrees—and women with master’s are paid less than men with bachelor’s degrees.” Similarly, from middle-age women janitors (who are paid 63% less than middle-aged men janitors) to women cardiologists (who are paid 29% less than male cardiologists), women are paid less than men for the same work.

At the current rate, North Carolina women will have to wait until 2060 for equal pay with men, and who knows how long until equal representation in executive and political positions. The Forbes article put it this way: “there are more CEO’s named John than there are female CEOs combined.”

Right now, the Paycheck Fairness Act is pending before Congress. It targets loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and civil rights laws that were meant to stop discrimination and close the wage gap, but didn’t. Among other things, it requires employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons, and it protects employees against retaliation for discussing salaries with colleagues. Also, it creates a salary negotiation skills training program for women and girls. It is easy to imagine a country where pay is gender-neutral and color-blind, and it is time to make it so. Fair pay and economic security depend upon it.

Shana Becker
Women’s March on Raleigh Organizer/Women Mobilize NC

Commentary

Raising wages is a women’s issue

As an organizer for the January Women’s March on Raleigh, I have been asked, “What is a women’s issue?”  The answer is simple. Policies that affect women’s lives are women’s issues.

Consider for example, the minimum wage. Nearly 1 in 3 workers in North Carolina earn a wage below the federal poverty level, making North Carolina workers the second worst off in the nation. More than half of the new jobs created since the late 2000’s pay poverty wages. How does this relate to women?

Here’s how: More than two-thirds of low-wage earners in North Carolina are women.

It is literally impossible for a single mother with two children to work enough hours to support her family when she is paid minimum wage, without the aid of public assistance. Full-time employment with no vacation at the minimum wage produces $15,080 per year. That’s $7.25 per hour, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. $15,080. It is not livable. It is not conscionable.

It is, however, fixable. Raise the minimum wage: full-time work should equal a living wage.

According to the Raising Wages NC coalition, our hypothetical woman worker would need to make nearly three times the minimum wage to make ends meet without public assistance. If she was paid minimum wage, she would have to work 24 hours per day to make enough. The Raising Wages NC coalition has crunched the numbers. It would take $21.95 per hour for a family of three to get by on a frugal budget. We have a long way to go to get to there.

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day and to help mark the event,  North Carolina Senator Angela Bryant and Representative Susan Fisher are introducing a bill to raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 within 5 years. It is a start. There will be a press conference inside the legislature at 11:00 a.m. and the event title is “Raising Wages is a Women’s Issue.” Because, it is.