By Tula Connell
The pay gap between female and male workers in this country got a hearing in a Senate committee yesterday. But you wouldn’t even know the hearing happened: The issue apparently doesn’t rank up there with the antics of drunk superstars or foolish golfers to get attention by the corporate media.
Right now, U.S. working women receive 77 cents for every dollar paid to a male worker. The ratio has remained nearly unchanged for years. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has been pushing for more than a decade to pass a paycheck fairness bill, and yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12/S. 182).
The act would amend the 1963 Equal Pay Act, in a way DeLauro describes as a modest reform “that closes longstanding loopholes” and “stiffens penalties” for employers who discriminate based on gender. (Much of the info on the hearing is based on Daily Labor Report, subscription required.)
So why isn’t the 1963 act good enough?
The premise that current laws are effective is wrong, said Deborah Brake, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. Testifying before the Senate committee, she said most of women’s wage gains in pay relative to men occurred in the 1980s and there has been very little movement since.
Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist Heather Boushey noted the pay gap starts the minute college grads throw their caps in the air, with newly graduated women earning an average 5 percent less than men who graduated from similar universities and engage in similar work. What then follows is a “career pay gap” of up to $434,000 in lifetime lost earnings for women who are the most educated and have higher-paying jobs.
The persistent gender wage gap is one more step on the ladder toward the nation’s growing income inequality. Unequal income leads to unequal wealth, with the persistent wage gap affecting families’ ability to pay the bills, finance their children’s education, buy a home or save for retirement, Boushey said.
The wealth gap differs from the income gap—it’s a person’s total assets, like pension funds and houses. A report out this week shows how bleak the wealth gap is for women, especially women of color.
Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, meaning their debts exceed all their assets. The median wealth for single black women is only $100; for single Hispanic women, $120. This compares to just over $41,000 for single white women. About one- third of single Hispanic women and one-fourth of single black women have no checking or savings account.
The picture gets bleaker when these data are compared with men. Mariko Lin Chang, author of “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future,” says:
Women of color own only a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by their corresponding men of color, of their same race. And in comparison to white women, women of color own only a fraction of a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by white women.
In short, women of color
face a double wealth disadvantage of being both a person of color and a woman.