Here's what it takes to understand about the gender gap

Here's what it takes to understand about the gender gap

iven the durability of the so-called "glass ceiling" it is apt that when the U.S. government brought its first gender pay discrimination lawsuit, in the late 1960s, the company at the center of the case was a large New Jersey glassmaking facility.

The company had been founded in the late 1880 s, but ran headlong into what it described on court documents as a shortage of male workers in 1956. The situation prompted the company, in an agreement with union representing its workers, to hire women as "selector packers" prohibited from lifting more items than 35 lbs. Beyond that one limitation, many men and women inside the company did the same work and were responsible for almost all the same tasks. They did not take home the same salaries - even though they eventually prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court in January 1970, winning wage equality for women.

The case established a central principle in pay equity. People doing essentially the same work should receive the same pay. Paying women differently violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and elements of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And yet descriptions of the case do not typically address a core factor that shapes wage inequality in the U.S. race and how it interacts with gender

For the 44.7% of black women who were part of the U.S. labor force in the early 1970 s and for the 60.5% of Black women who worked in 2019, that dynamic has shaped and influenced almost every facet of their lives. Today, five decades after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal pay, the average Black woman in the U.S. would have to work longer than 19 months to earn what a white man does in 12. She has to work a bit less, but still more than a year to take home what white woman makes. This Tuesday marks equal pay for Black Women.

In some ways, however, it makes sense that a 1970 patent document about equal pay would not mention the way that race and gender can shape experiences in the workplace. After all, much of today's wage gap between Black and white women is inextricably linked to factors that were arose only in the last 30 years. The wage gap is often described as a pay and opportunity difference between white men and all women. But once you know the history, it is clear that the gap between girls was just as important — and that white women share an obligation to address it.

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According to a 2021 analysis by the National Women's Law Center of recent labor data, the wage gap between Black women who are full-time, year-round workers and their white, non-Hispanic, male counterparts adds up to a staggering loss of $964,400 over a 40 years career. The gap between a black woman and a white woman working full time will make in a lifetime seem small by comparison. And it is still enough to buy a white man and her family nearly two pandemic-priced homes. What black women lose out on, compared to white women, is life saving money.

To understand the gap between Black and white women, one need only look back as far as the 1970's, the decade that saw the first series of victories in pay and other race discrimination cases, says Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute's Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy. In that decade, the workforce saw significant increases in the number of white women, especially white women. In fact, the growth rate for men in the workforce was twice as much as women.

The 1980 s brought more pronounced gains for both white women and black women, who had been in full time labor force in larger numbers since the 1870s than their Black counterparts. At the same time, men saw their wages continue to fall due to a variety of factors, such as the large-scale loss of high-wage blue-collar jobs. The net effect was the most significant and effective corresponding narrowing of the gender pay gap until date.

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Whilst the pay gap was opened in the 1990's, the second gap emerged between other groups of women and White Women, Wilson says, when white women experienced a higher rate of wage growth than Black women and other groups of female. That means that the pay gap is the handiwork of people who are still hiring and firing, promoting and making pay decisions today. Just as gender pay equity edged closer to reality in the 1980 s, wages had followed a pattern that was many considered known and often disputed throughout the history of efforts to improve the lives of women: Black and white women were both present and involved. In several of the most important workplace equity cases, Black women were the plaintiffs. But white women reaped many tangible benefits, usually without making significant effort to ensure those gains were more widely available. Where wages are concerned, any professed gender solidarity gave birth to opportunities that were notably made available to some women but not all.

It takes White men in the U.S. 20 days to earn what black women make in a year? When Black women know this, when even those working in white-collar spaces know that a return to the office means they will have to maintain unbothered veneers as they hear white co-workers make casual references to the things wage gaps put out of reach for them — the second homes, specialized summer camps for kids and multiple pets?

Part of the wage gap between white and black women, which comes together with the overall gender wage gap between women and men, can be attributed to the fact that Black women are clustered in some of the nation's lowest paid industries, explains Jasmine Tucker, the National Women's Law Center's director of research. Those include education, social services, retail, hospitality and personal services, as well as various forms of care and housekeeping, industries that once were the exclusive ones open to women of color.

How should the work of care be assessed seriously is it necessary to think about how this country's system of economic production started, says Ai-jen Poo, co-founder & executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Enslaved black men were forced to labor without pay; control of their children's whereabouts, Well-being and fate was stripped away for profit. At the same time, enslaved Black women were forced to provide much of the child and elder care, household cleaning and even mother's milk for the nation's landed gentry and industrialists. The dynamic contributed to a culture of work, of care and of economic gain that all relied on the capacity to exploit and abuse human beings. In 1938, amid critical reforms in American labor law, Southern Democrats insisted that most of the jobs worked by Blacks and Latinos — agricultural labor and domestic work among them — be excluded, citing costs, competitiveness and racist notions of the natural order. Other Republicans and Democrats made the deal. Some farm laborers and domestic workers witnessed this only in the 1970 s. In fact, many home health care workers were classified as paid companions, not workers qualified for the minimum wage and overtime, until 2015.

But the racial wage gap among girls isn't just about which industries women enter. Valerie Wilson says that it is also about bias, about stereotypes and notions about who deserves to earn what. The individual can try, and may sometimes succeed, in asking for fair pay. But there's almost no way to eliminate past biases and eliminate all wage gaps. Pay disparities exist between white women and other groups of women at every rung of the equation: income, experience, and education. Study after study has controlled or accounted for the many things that shape pay, and some portion of the racial pay gap between women remains, says Tucker. A similar and better known pattern exists in the gender pay gap between white men and all groups of women as well as in pay changes between groups of men.

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Legions claim to have recognized the value of teachers and childcare workers since the pandemic began. When higher wage workers return to their offices, many will eventually return to paying one or more caretaker's wages. When they do, it will often be women of greater means, who set the precise terms to which women in American industries work, and decide where other families stand in the domestic culture of exploitation. There can be none of that advised leaning, which happens in lower-wage spaces without also leaning on other women — and this often begins with white-collar women of color.

And yes, white women have their own wage gap to solve, but they also have a responsibility to affect the one for which they cannot be held blameless. And there is an opportunity to stand with women of color on the near horizon, one that will shape what kind of pandemic economic recovery we ultimately have.

As lawmakers debate how to boost the number of women who return to the workforce, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a white woman and democrat from New York, has reintroduced a bill known as the Federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. It would provide approximately 2.2 million domestic workers — over 90% of whom are women, more than half of them women of color — some basic workplace protections such as overtime pay, paid sick leave and protections from workplace sexual harassment. Ten states and two major cities have already implemented similar laws.

The bill was first introduced in 2019 by then Senator Pramila Jayapal, a white Southeast Asian Democrat from California, and Rep Kamala Harris, a black and Southeast Asian democrat from Washington. Now there is one black American woman and not a Latina woman with a Senate vote. In their absence, white women must step up, speak out about the working conditions of others women and share the spoils of an increase in wages and power — not just in Congress, but everywhere.

There is little time, says Tucker, of the NWLC. As business owners capture attention when they say they can't find or keep employees, many Black women and other women of color — who have earned so much less for so long — won't have the financial resources to keep holding out for better options.

It is Aug. 3, Equal Pay Day for Black Women - June 6. The Federal eviction moratorium has expired. And the rent and just about everything else is due.

— With reporting by Simmone Shah and Mariah Espada.