By Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA
On April 12, 2016, we'll again reach the day of the year in which the typical woman (receiving median pay) in the U.S. will, when she adds the amount she was paid in 2015 to the amount she has been paid year-to-date, get the same amount of income that her male counterpart (receiving median pay) got in 2015. The National Committee on Pay Equity has designated this day for the past 20 years to call attention to the gender disparity in wages.
Of course, in a political economy where class, gender and race/ethnicity intersect, it can be hard to find the typical woman. So there is a question of who the comparison should be with. Breaking the gender pay gap down by race and ethnicity highlights some significant differences and also illustrates the intersection of various hierarchies of power. The gender pay gap is largest for white women who get only about 75% of while male pay. This larger pay gap reflects the fact that gender inequality is greatest at the top deciles of pay ˗ and these are jobs that go mostly to white workers ˗ where, although a woman may have a high paying job such as a lawyer or a medical doctor ˗ her high-paid male counterpart got a larger starting salary that left her behind from the beginning of her career. This initial pay gap is seldom made up over the course of a career.
What is the impact of race or ethnicity? Our median-paid African American woman gets more than 80% of here African-American male counterpart. And our typical Latina is paid over 85% of her Latino counterpart. However, before we rejoice over lesser levels of gender pay inequality, let's remind ourselves that the African American woman made only about $4 for every $5 her white sister made and $3 for every $5 the typical white male worker made. The story is even worse for our Latina woman worker who made $7 for every $10 her white sister made and only $5.50 for $10 the typical white male worker made.
The U.S. has been stuck about a 20 percent gender pay differential for full-time year-round workers for several years. We've almost come to see it as "natural," or maybe "just the way it is."
But, suppose our typical woman worker was in a different country. Would she have a different experience? Of course that depends on the country, but let's consider some other wealthy societies. The table below gives the 2016 month through which our typical woman would have to work in each country to get the same amount of income that her male counterpart in that same country received in 2015. (To keep it simple the table, calculated from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is in whole months.)
Country 2016 Month to Reach Male 2015 Pay
New Zealand January
A review of the table illustrates an important point about economic inequality and gender pay gaps. The countries with the lowest gender pay gap, where the typical female worker has to work the shortest time into 2016 to catch up with her male counterpart's 2015 wage, are also those that have done the best in terms of resisting the neoliberal policies that have increased inequality in general. Countries that have been most effective in using tax and transfer systems to counter unequal market-wage outcomes are also those most successful in reducing, even though not eliminating, gender wage inequality.
And this takes us to the Sanders campaign. His Paycheck Fairness Act and his advocacy of paid parental leave are the types of policies that can close the gender pay gap. In the spirit of our independent campaign, however, I think that Sanders should make explicit that paid family leave would have an incentive for paternal as well as maternal leave. This lesson was learned by several Northern European countries that, as evident in the list above, perform much better on gender pay equity than the U.S. or the U.K.
Bill Barclay is on the Steering Committee of Chicago DSA, is a founding member of the Chicago Political Economy Group and serves as DSA National Member Organizer.
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