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Gender, Race and the Executive Order for Equal Pay

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April 9, 2014

There’s been a lot of talk about equal pay and the gender wage gap the past week and half. It was widely reported last week and the days leading up to it, that President Obama would sign an executive order that would ensure equal pay for a large sector of the workforce. According to NPR, the executive order will 1) prevent federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries with each other and 2) federal contractors would also be forced to give the Labor Department data about their employees’ pay along with their race and gender, under new rules the president is instructing the agency to adopt.

This executive order is important. The gender wage gap exists and it’s hurting a lot of women and families. This order won’t completely eliminate it but it will make it easier for women to compare their wages and see if they are being paid unfairly. There are a lot of reasons why some women never find out about the fact that they are being paid less than their male co workers for doing the same job.

One of the reasons is that talking about how much you make is, well, not illegal but VERY strongly discouraged, as the article says. Even back when I worked at a root beer stand in high school, I could never get the other girls I worked with to tell me how much they made. Even though our paychecks were out in plain sight on pay day and we all had to go through the stack to find ours (our boss organized them in alphabetical order). We were teenagers working after school jobs at a mom and pop shop and even at that age, we knew not to discuss our paychecks. By the time I started college, I knew not to ask about paychecks even when I wanted to how much certain majors paid. I am graduating, about to enter the workforce full time and unless I work for a federal contractor, chances are I won’t be discussing paychecks with anyone anytime soon. It saddens me a little bit. Not nearly as much though as the fact that this whole story about the executive order has been reported as a gain for women, instead of what it actually is, a gain for certain women.

Yes, women on average make less than men. But white women on average make more than women of color. This is important because the 77 cents that keeps getting trotted out as what women make to a man’s dollar only applies to white women. What people should be saying that white women on average make 77 cents to a man’s dollar. According to the National Women’s Law Center (which has very cool data on women and labor), “In 2012 women working full-time, year-round made only 77 cents for every dollar that men made — resulting in a wage gap of 23 cents. But for women of color, the situation is even worse: in 2012 African-American and Hispanic women working full time, year round made only 64 cents and 54 cents respectively for every dollar that non-Hispanic white men made.”

NWLC_Equalpaychart

64 cents and 54 cents. Almost makes that 77 cents seem extravagant.

Constantly saying women make 77 cents on average for every dollar a man makes erases the racial disparities within the wage gap. Not to mention how much more complex it gets when we factor in a woman’s ability, size, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Race affects how much women of color make. It also affects the way their earnings increases over time. This fact sheet from NWLC states that  “while women overall have seen their earnings increase by 29 percent in constant 2012 dollars since 1974, African-American and Hispanic women have seen much slower and smaller growth of 23 percent and 14 percent respectively.”

It’s important that we not obscure these racial disparities especially as we move towards raising the minimum wage. Hispanic and black women are overrepresented in minimum wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage would be one of the ways to eliminate some of the racial disparities in earnings.

President Obama’s executive order is a good thing. Hopefully it will be the start of a series of action that makes sure that all women, regardless of their identities are paid fairly and equally.

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