March 31, 2020, marked Equal Pay Day. Far from a celebration, this day represents how far women, on average, had to work into 2020 to match what men earned in 2019. Nationally, women working full-time, year-round earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men working full-time, year-round. In 2018 in California, women earned just 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. It is even worse for women of color. Black women earned only 61 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. Latina women earned only 42 cents – the largest wage gap in the country! Equal Pay Day for Black women is August 13th, and for Latinas is October 29th. All of these pay gaps reflect how women in the workplace are too often undervalued and underpaid.
In this current moment, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an economic crisis, the effects of which are already being felt. About two-thirds of low wage workers are women, and it is these workers—particularly women of color—who are on the front lines of a society grappling with the outbreak. For example, grocery store workers and home health aides cannot do their work remotely, and while at work they are not easily able to limit contact with the public. These workers are risking their health and safety to serve the public during this crisis, and still, the average woman working in one of these occupations earns less than her male counterpart.
We must do something.
Women’s earnings are increasingly important to the economic stability of families. In the US, half of all households with children under 18 have a breadwinner mother who is either a single mother who heads the household, regardless of earnings, or a married mother who provides at least 40 percent of the couple’s joint earnings. In California, nearly 25% of children live in poverty. Wouldn’t that number be lower if women were paid equally?
National action on pay equity: In January 2019, two women in Congress introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act to tackle a major portion of the gender wage gap. If enacted, the bill would strengthen existing equal pay protections that have been weakened over time and have made it harder to hold employers accountable for discriminatory practices. It would better protect workers from retaliation, remove obstacles to justice through class action litigation, and improve remedies for plaintiffs so that they are consistent with the remedies available for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Paycheck Fairness Act would limit the use of salary history in the hiring process, which can perpetuate entrenched pay disparities and pay discrimination throughout a woman’s career. Further, the law would require regular, disaggregated pay data collection to enhance employer transparency, identify significant pay gaps, and to bolster investigations of discrimination claims. While the Paycheck Fairness Act will not single-handedly close the gender wage gap, it will be an important step in the right direction.
On March 27, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act with bipartisan support. However, the Senate—under the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—has failed to pass the equal pay law and as of today, has no clear plans to even act on it.
California action on Pay Equity: Our state leads the nation in passing legislation that addresses pay discrimination. But enforcement of the law lags behind. A bill, SB 973 Pay Data Reporting, authored by Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, would require employers to report payroll data to the appropriate state agency by gender, race, and ethnicity for specified job categories. These reports would be submitted to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and made available to the Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement upon request. SB 973 would allow for the designated state agencies to more efficiently identify patterns of wage disparities and occupational segregation, and allow for targeted enforcement of California’s equal pay laws. The aggregate data provided in the reports would not be publicly available or identifiable at the individual worker level, which should assuage employer concerns regarding privacy or confidentiality.
AAUW California is a cosponsor of this bill. All of us need to work to assure the passage of this important legislation.