Income inequality in 2016: Women and minorities struggle to be treated equally

Even with the Equal Pay Act, women and minorities are still being paid substantially less than their male counterparts in the workplace.

Photo by Jessica Hill (Associated Press).

Equal Pay Day took place on April 12, and symbolized the date of how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.  If you are African-American, your Equal Pay Day is not until August 23, for Native American women, September 13, and for a Latina woman, November 1.  In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Elizabeth Warren stated, “by the sound of it, you would think it’s some sort of historic holiday commemorating the anniversary of a landmark day that our country guaranteed equal pay for women, but that’s not what this is about. Not even close.”

The purpose of the [Equal Pay Act] is to prohibit sex-based wage discrimination between men and women  . . .

This past Equal Pay Day, President Obama designated a new national monument at a historic location in Washington, D.C., to honor the movement for women’s equality.  The new Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument now protects the iconic house that has served as the headquarters for the National Woman’s Party since 1929.  From this house, also known as the Sewall-Belmont House, members of the Party led the movement for women’s equality, writing more than 600 pieces of federal, state, and local legislation in support of equal rights.  The monument is named after Alva Belmont, the party’s benefactor, and Alice Paul, the party’s founder.

During the dedication of the monument, President Obama stated, “I want young girls and boys to come here, 10, 20, 100 years from now, to know that women fought for equality, it was not just given to them. I want them to be astonished that there was ever a time when women earned less than men for doing the same work.”

Fifty-three years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women still struggle to fully attain income equality in the workplace.  The purpose of the Act is to prohibit sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same business, who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gender discrimination in the workplace. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.  It generally applies to employers with fifteen or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments.

Lawsuits under these Acts are still being filed today.  Most recently, the United States Women’s Soccer team filed a wage bias complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Soccer Federation.  In it they allege that, in comparison to what the U.S. Men’s team gets paid, they are being discriminated against.  Even though they have recently generated more revenue, they are continually being paid substantially less than the men.

Depending on where a woman lives, her age, and her race, she could be waiting for an even longer period [to bridge the gender pay gap]. 

In 2014, white women were paid 79 percent of what white men were.  This is both good and bad.  It is good because it is a substantial increase from the 59 percent that women were paid in 1964.  However, if this trend continues in the same manner, women will not earn equal pay until 2059.

Depending on where a woman lives, her age, and her race, she could be waiting for an even longer period for equal pay.  These three factors also play an important role in the gender pay gap.  A woman’s race is a major determinant of what her initial pay will be compared to her male counterparts.  According to a 2016 study from The American Association of University Women, an African-American woman gets paid 63 percent of what a White man does, while a Native American woman gets 59 percent, and finally a Latina receives 54 percent.

Age and location also play important roles.  Up until age 35, women tend to earn about 90 percent of what a man earns.  Unfortunately, after the age of 35, the gap begins to substantially increase.  Women from age 55-64 tend to suffer the biggest wage gap, which is as low as 76 percent.  According to the National Women’s Law Center, women who live in New York typically earn about 87 percent of what males do.  Meanwhile, women who live in Louisiana only earn about 65 percent, one of the lowest in the country.

Critics attribute the wage gap to the fact that women tend to work less hours.

Even with all of these efforts to raise awareness of the issue and the statistics that are being released, there are those who view it as a myth.  There are some that believe that banning stay-at-home-moms is a solution to the statistics.  However, most believe that the statistics are simply being incorrectly calculated.  Critics attribute the wage gap to the fact that women tend to work less hours.  This is due to many factors, but mainly to the fact that women usually take time off when they are close to having their child, as well as after, in order to properly care for their child.

Another reason that is commonly used to explain the miscalculation of the statistics is the types of jobs that women tend to attain versus those that men tend to get.  Critics claim that men tend to want the more risky, therefore higher paying positions than women do.  According to Mark Perry, an economist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, “women, more than men, show a demonstrated preference for lower risk occupations with greater workplace safety and comfort, and they are frequently willing to accept lower wages for the greater safety and reduced probability of work-related injury or death.”  In 2014, men made up 92.3 percent of workplace deaths.  According to Perry this is because, “men far outnumber women in the most dangerous, but higher-paying occupations that have the greatest probability of job-related injury or death.”

Race plays a major role in how much a woman gets paid.

Although some of this may be true, there are many women whose career choices were not affected by these factors at all.  Even so, they continue to make substantially less than their male counterparts.  For example, women like Kerri Sleeman from Houghton, Michigan, who chose to focus on their careers, still continue to struggle.  Ms. Sleeman has a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering and chose a male-dominated, higher-paying career field, mechanical engineering. She tried to negotiate her starting salary, but her employer refused.  She did not have children, and usually worked about fifty hours a week.  But after her company went bankrupt, she discovered that she was paid thousands less than the men she supervised.  Most of these men were right out of college with considerably less experience.

Race plays a major role in how much a woman gets paid.  For example, Cheryl Hughes, who works for an auto supplier in Detroit, has a master’s degree in engineering, nineteen years of experience, and yet only gets paid $47,000 a year.  Most engineers with that education level and amount of experience usually get paid double that amount.  Ms. Hughes states, “as an African-American woman over 40 years of age, I face three-fold discrimination — age, race, and gender.”

Recently, the New York City Police Union claimed that they are being paid less than their counterparts in other cities because they are more racially diverse.  The Police Benevolent Association mailed fliers to 35,000 households in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.  They also called on Mayor de Blasio’s administration to end income inequality in the department.  “When NYC cops all looked like this, they were the highest paid force in the country,” one of the fliers with a photo of an all-white uniformed police officers unit reads.  “Now that NYC cops look like this, we are among the lowest paid police officers in the country,” another flier that shows minority police officers reads.  Currently, the Wall Street Journal vowed to fix its pay gap for women and minorities.  The current weekly pay for a White Male is $1,773.05, while a White Female earns $1,497.34.  An African-American Male earns $1,227.88 and an African-American Female earns $1,141.31.  A Hispanic Male earns $1,320.68 and a Hispanic Female gets $1,176.51.

There have been several claims made, that men and women who have names that are more stereotypical of their respective races, struggle more to find employment. 

Another problem that contributes to income inequality is that some employers simply will not hire somebody because of their name.  There have been several claims made, that men and women who have names that are more stereotypical of their respective races, struggle more to find employment.

According to Nicholas Kristof, researchers sent thousands of resumes to employers, randomly using stereotypical Black names and others that were more likely to belong to a White person.  A White name increased the likelihood of a callback by 50 percent.  Another example is Jose Zamora, who applied to hundreds of positions over a span of several months and never heard back.  He then decided to change the name on his resume to Joe Zamora and within a week he had an inbox full of callbacks.

Although an increasing amount of companies, especially those in the technology field, are paying more attention to this issue, the problem still persists.  Many believe that if companies are forced to pay attention to this issue or to publicly disclose how much their employees are getting paid, it will help resolve the problem.  Even though solutions have been proposed by Congress and the Obama administration, the best way to effectuate change now, is for our society to make this a priority.

There are many factors that contribute to this problem, but the biggest is cultural.  If women and minorities made this a priority, this culture that favors White males would quickly change.  As Cheryl Hughes stated, “we must stand together and demand pay equity. If not, this issue will still be discussed when the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act turns 100.”

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About Josue Jimenez, Managing Editor Emeritus (18 Articles)
Josue Jimenez is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as the Managing Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. He is a Los Angeles, California native, but has lived in Charlotte, NC, since November, 2003. In 2013, Josue graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Global Studies (Concentration in Politics, region Latin America) and Religious Studies (Focus on Early Christianity). From August, 2013- July, 2014, Josue worked as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Grand Rapids, MI. During the summer of 2015, he interned at Fayad Law, PC, where he worked on immigration and criminal defense cases. In the summer of 2016, Josue interned at the Charlotte Immigration Court where he prepared draft decisions for Immigration Judges on immigration matters including cancellation of removal and asylum applications. As well as, consulted with Immigration Judges and Judicial Law Clerks regarding pending decisions. During his final semester at Campbell Law Josue interned in the Legislative Analysis Division of the NC General Assembly. There, Josue assisted attorneys in the Division with numerous projects that dealt with constituent requests to pending legislation. These projects also covered a wide range of legal issues, ranging from multi-state surveys related to health and human services, agriculture, immigration, and aviation, to research on current state and federal law related to employment, local governments, veterans, immigration, and criminal law. Josue also served as the Vice-President of the Student Bar Association and a Peer Mentor during the 2016-2017 academic year.
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