“The earlier that Equal Pay Day arrives, the closer our Nation has come to achieving pay fairness,” the president said in a prepared statement. This means that in 2020, the average woman working full-time, year-round, made 83 cents to a typical man’s dollar — up one cent from the previous year.
“But while we should celebrate the progress we have made,” Biden continued, “we should not be satisfied until Equal Pay Day is no longer necessary at all.”
On Tuesday, the Department of Labor released a report pegged to Equal Pay Day that takes a closer look at how the pandemic widened the pay gap among certain groups, finding that caregiving burdens and occupational segregation exacerbated pay disparities among Black and Hispanic women in particular.
“Occupational segregation feeds this negative impact and has significant impacts for women, for families and for the economy,” said Wendy Chun-Hoon, director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau, who spoke about the report to journalists on Monday afternoon.
Equal Pay Day began in 1996 as National Pay Inequity Awareness Day, a public awareness campaign by the National Committee on Pay Equity to highlight the disparities in men’s and women’s pay.
This pay gap persists across industries and occupations. A 2021 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women make less than men even in occupations where they make up a majority of workers, such as education and nursing.
As the liberal think tank Center for American Progress explains, these numbers don’t compare men and women doing identical work, because men and women often do not work the same jobs. Ratios can also vary slightly depending on whether weekly or annual earnings are being compared.
In recent years, economists and advocates have pointed out that Equal Pay Day doesn’t tell the complete story of the gender wage gap.
That’s because even deeper disparities exist when factors like race or disability are taken into consideration. In 2020, Black women made 63 percent of what White, non-Hispanic men made — a ratio that more closely resembles the gender wage gap of the 1960s than it does today’s. For this reason, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day this year will be recognized on Sept. 21. For full-time Black women workers, the median wage actually went down compared to the year before.
This was also true for Native American women and Latinas. According to the American Association of University Women, the median income of a Native woman is now 50 cents to every dollar paid to White men. For Latinas, it’s now 49 cents: In 2022, Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day won’t pass until Dec. 8.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Women’s Equal Pay Day will be on May 3, but experts point out that wages vary greatly for Asian American women. While women of Taiwanese, Indian and Chinese descent typically make more than their White male peers, many other groups, particularly Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, usually make much less.
What drives the wage gap, experts say, is job segregation on the basis of both gender and race.
This divide has long been a fact of the U.S. economy: Women are overrepresented in jobs and industries that pay the least. This has also explained, in part, the devastating effect the pandemic has had on female workers, as the DOL report points out. They were overrepresented in the industries hit hardest by the pandemic — retail, hospital and education — and within those industries, were more likely than men to lose or leave those jobs.
While it’s important to look at the overall picture of job losses, Sarah Jane Glynn, a senior advisor at the Women’s Bureau and one of the authors of the new labor report, said it was important to recognize that those losses have been “largely driven by the experiences of Black and Hispanic women workers.” The impact was especially severe for mothers of color, she noted.
Indeed, there is a connection between caregiving responsibilities and occupational segregation, Glynn explained.
“Women-dominated jobs tend to have fewer caregiving supports and tend to have fewer benefits that can help people to manage those dual responsibilities,” Glynn said. “So many of the jobs that are in women-dominated sectors are poor quality jobs. They offer low pay, which can make paying for care very difficult for those families.”
Then there’s the additional work of caregiving, which still disproportionately falls to women and can limit the kinds of roles they can take.
Because there are multiple reasons the wage gap persists, this means employers, educators and policymakers need to work to close it, economists say.
“The idea is that if there are no secrets, then every worker has a lot more bargaining power,” Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York City, told The Lily this year.
Federal policies that require private companies to disclose their staffing data could also help policymakers keep employers accountable for deep pay disparities that exist at their workplace, Michelle Holder, president and chief executive of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told The Lily in 2021.
Holder also noted that raising the minimum wage would also drive up women’s overall wages, because women hold the majority of lower-paying jobs. Without addressing job segregation, disparities will persist — through pandemic recovery and beyond, she said.
“The predominant narrative in this country about recovering from the pandemic has been, well, as soon as we get the virus under control, our economy will bounce back,” Holder said. “That narrative is false.”
It also needs to be easier for women to reenter the workforce and get child-care support, should they need it, Kristen Broady, director of the Economic Mobility Project at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told The Lily last year. To do that, women need greater political representation in office, she added.
“Having [political] representation means, for women, that there’s people who are more likely to understand child-care issues or needing sick leave for various reasons that women experience, that men don’t,” Broady said.
Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, summed it up this way: Caregiving needs to be supported, and essential work needs to be adequately recognized. “The essential workers that we rely on to sort of keep our country afloat are disproportionately women and women of color in particular, and we need to do better by them,” she said.