You’ve probably heard of the wage gap—a phrase that references the difference in annual earnings between male and female workers. But, what does that gap mean to female employees—and why does it persist? Here are some important facts about the gender pay gap:
1. The Difference In Pay Equals About Three Extra Months Work
When discussing the wage gap, female worker’s earnings are frequently represented as a percentage of their male counterparts. For example, according to the White House, full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn.
Consider a difference of 23 percent in framed in number of days spent working: According to that same data, this means that women have to work approximately 60 extra days, or about three months, to earn what men did by the end of the previous year—affecting not only day-to-day earnings, but long-term financial potential and their ability to save for retirement.
For families, the gender wage gap can make the difference between living below or above the poverty line, between having access to high-quality child care, schools, and colleges, or only being able to afford poorer quality alternatives or no pre-kindergarten or post-secondary education at all.
2. The Wage Gap Affects Workers In Nearly Every Occupation
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women working in nearly every occupation are generally earning less than their male counterparts. For example, according to ThinkProgress, female attorneys make, on average, 84 percent of a similarly-experienced male attorney’s salary—while billing an average of 24 extra minutes per day.
Why is this? One reason that the wage gap persists is time off—women are more likely to take career interruptions to care for their family:
● Roughly four out of ten mothers report that they have taken a significant amount of time off from work (39%) or reduced their work hours (42%) to care for their child or another family member.
● Roughly a quarter (27%) say they have quit work altogether to take care of these familial responsibilities.
● Fewer men say the same. For example, just 24% of fathers say they have taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.
Research has shown that these types of interruptions don’t just have an effect on a woman’s annual income, but can have an impact on long-term earnings. The penalties aren’t just for taking time off, either. In a recent paper, Harvard economist Claudia Goldin found that many professions place a high premium on employees working at specific times—this means even working full-time at more irregular hours can hurt pay.
3. The Wage Gap Is Worse In Some States
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) , the gender pay gap varies by as much as 25 percent across the U.S. The states with the smallest gender pay gap (where women are earning between 91 and 85 percent of what their male counterparts are earning) include Washington D.C., New York and Maryland.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the states with the greatest gender pay gaps (where women were earning only about 69 percent of what their male counterparts were earning) include Louisiana, Wyoming and West Virginia.
What about California? Full-time female employees in California have been paid substantially less—a median 84 cents for every dollar—than men.
However, California took a major step toward closing the lingering wage gap between men and women last October, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed one of the toughest pay equity laws in the nation.
While there are already laws banning employers from paying women less than men for the same jobs, the new California Fair Pay Act broadens that prohibition by saying bosses cannot pay employees less than those of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work”—even if their titles are different or they work at different sites.
The law, which took effect on January 1, 2016, means that female housekeeper who cleans hotel rooms may challenge higher wages paid to a male janitor who cleans the lobby and banquet halls. Similarly, a female cashier could challenge a male cashier’s higher wages at a store owned by the same employer but located a few miles away.
The new law also prohibits retaliation against employees who ask about or discuss wages paid to co-workers, and it clarifies their ability to claim retaliation.
On the employer side, those sued by workers would have to show that wage differences are due to factors other than sex, such as merit or seniority; that they are job-related and reasonable; and that they are not due to discrimination.
If you have been the target of illegal wage practices or workplace discrimination and need specific legal advice, don’t hesitate to contact the Henk Leonard Law Firm by calling (916) 787-4544.