Labor Leader's View: Stop accepting the status quo of unequal pay for women
From the column: Today, March 15, is Equal Pay Day 2022, "the date (when) a woman who works full-time all year round has to work in order to get paid the same amount a man did the previous year."
Think back on a regular workday this year, maybe a Monday in January or February. It had its ups and downs. It was snowy, dreary. You left home before the sun came up. Roadwork caused long traffic delays. Seeing your colleagues brightened it a bit, but there were frustrations, too. Maybe a lost glove. And on top of that was the added stress of the complex considerations you’re constantly assessing to keep yourself and your family safe from COVID-19.
If you’re a woman, the money you made that day was already in a man’s pocket by Dec. 31.
That’s the idea behind Equal Pay Day, the date on the calendar each year through which a woman who works full-time all year round has to work in order to get paid the same amount a man did the previous year. For 2022, Equal Pay Day is today, March 15 — 74 days after New Year’s Eve. Thinking through this lens helps drive home the fundamental unfairness of the persistent gender and racial wage gap in our country. That wage gap is, sadly, even larger for Black women (64%) and Hispanic women (57%) compared to white, non-Hispanic men.
The Biden-Harris administration has placed gender and racial equity at the center of its domestic framework for building a better America. The American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law contain meaningful levers for combating structural inequities.
To understand how the gender wage gap expresses in our current economy, especially in the wake of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Labor has released a new report, “Bearing the Cost: How Overrepresentation in Undervalued Jobs Disadvantaged Women During the Pandemic.” The report examines the varied experiences of working women during the pandemic. Some lost jobs, others left work to care for children or family, and still others did essential work that put their health and safety at risk. Amid all of this — and for the first time in a modern recession — women saw worse employment impacts than men. Women lost 11.9 million jobs compared to 10.1 million for men between February and April of 2020.
The report unpacks a concept known as “occupational segregation,” or the division of men and women into different types of jobs. For example, 93% of child care workers are women, but women are only 2% of electricians. The impact of occupational segregation is that the types of jobs where women are concentrated are valued less and pay lower wages than those where men are concentrated. Occupational segregation contributed to women’s greater job losses during the pandemic. Its causes are deep and widespread across our society, ranging from outright discrimination to subtle stereotypes and social norms that push women into particular fields of study and career pathways.
Occupational segregation has significant consequences. It preserves racial and gender wage gaps while reducing economic growth overall. Segregation by industry and occupation cost Black women an estimated $39.3 billion and Hispanic women an estimated $46.7 billion in lower wages compared to white men in 2019.
The Department of Labor studied the local effects of occupational segregation and found that in Minnesota women's overall wage gap compared to men was 81 cents, Hispanic women's wage gap compared to white non-Hispanic men was 53 cents, and Black women's wage gap compared to white non-Hispanic men was 60 cents.
The good news is there are ways we can chip away at these disparities. For example, if you’re a woman in a union, you made up men’s 2021 earnings by Valentine’s Day; this is known as Union Women’s Equal Pay Day . It’s why Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh has made supporting worker organizing and collective bargaining key features of the department’s Good Jobs Initiative, an effort to harness unprecedented worker power to make inroads toward fairer and more sustainable working conditions for all.
We can also take other actions, including supporting women as they enter male-dominated fields; fighting to raise wages and ensure job quality in women-dominated jobs; making high-quality, affordable, and accessible child care; increasing funding for home- and community-based care; supporting paid family and medical leave; strengthening overtime protections; demanding predictable scheduling; and ensuring racial and gender equity in all jobs, especially those newly created climate and infrastructure jobs on projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill.
Most importantly, we can recognize that the status quo — 74 extra days of the blaring alarm clock and the delayed morning bus before women are compensated equally with men — is not something we have to accept, and we must not resign ourselves to unfairness simply because it’s so typical. Instead, we can imagine a post-pandemic recovery that is truly equitable, and where Equal Pay Day didn’t have to exist.
Gina Rodriguez is the regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau in Chicago.