The Path to Pay Equity

By Caroline Dobuzinskis and Ariane Hegewisch

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a class action lawsuit brought against Walmart by six plaintiffs representing 1.5 million employees did not have sufficient evidence to prove a corporate-wide policy in discrimination—and could not qualify as a class action suit for monetary damages.

This is potentially a major blow to the reduction of discrimination by large employers—and an obstacle in making pay equality a reality in the United States. IWPR research has shown that, through class action suits, consent decree litigations imposed on employers requiring changes in policy or behavior can help to eliminate discrimination in the workplace. Transparency and monitoring can ensure that these changes take hold in the long term, and create a shift in corporate policy away from discriminatory practices in corporate hiring and promotions.

Still a Long Way to Go for Pay Equality

The gender wage gap is real and will be around for some time. Women’s median annual earnings are only 77 percent of men’s and, according to an IWPR estimate, pay equity will not be reached until 2056.

Discrimination has been shown to be one of the factors that create the gender wage gap. Even after estimates control for age, experience, education, occupation, industry and hours of work, 41 percent of the wage gap remains.

In principle, the groundwork for eliminating pay inequality was laid almost five decades ago when President Joseph F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act (EPA) in 1963 to prevent pay discrimination against women. In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate in terms of pay or employment conditions, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. After these historic legislative advances, progress in closing the gender wage gap has slowed in recent decades.

Experts Weigh in on Pay Fairness

A recent briefing on Capitol Hill attracted a standing-room-only crowd interested in hearing how to make pay equality the new reality—both in principle and in practice. The June 9 briefing was organized jointly by IWPR and the National Women’s Law Center, and was sponsored by longstanding pay equity champions Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro who recently reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act to both Houses of Congress.

Pay Secrecy Often Goes Hand in Hand with Pay Discrimination

At the briefing, Ariane Hegewisch, Study Director at IWPR, argued that protection from pay discrimination exists in principle. But close to half of all workers and over 60 percent of private sector workers cannot discuss their pay—making pay equality difficult to ensure in practice.  Some workers can face disciplinary action, and even immediate dismissal, if they are caught discussing wages.

Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women’s Law Center, noted that the issue of pay secrecy did not receive much media attention in reporting on Walmart v. Dukes despite plaintiffs in the case expressing fear at employer retaliation if they discussed pay.

While pay secrecy policies and practices do not prove the presence of wage discrimination, IWPR’s recent research on sex and race discrimination settlements suggests that pay secrecy and wage discrimination often go hand in hand.

Carol Golubock, Director of Policy at SEIU- Service Employees International Union, added that in principle workers have the right to discuss their pay under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA). Because of weak enforcement and the absence of punitive damages or injunctive relief, however, many employers continue to get away with having explicit pay secrecy clauses.

Paycheck Fairness Act Prevents Pay Secrecy

All experts on the panel at the briefing emphasized the positive changes that could be brought through passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act—focusing in particular on its capacity to prohibit employer retaliation against workers who discuss salaries and wages. The impact of reducing pay secrecy could reach also hourly workers, helping them to ensure they are receiving their due through minimum wage and overtime laws.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would also spur growth in the economy and assist working families. Goss Graves pointed to the wider benefits that equal pay can have on families, especially single mothers, and communities. As overall tax revenues increase, more money is put in the economy, and more money available to keep children out of poverty and address their needs.

Adding to the discussion on pay equality, one panelist presented another facet of the unequal pay conundrum that lies outside of legislation. Lilla Hunter-Taylor, CEO of an employee recruitment company called The Staff Hunter, said she frequently encounters clients seeking women candidates because women do not negotiate as aggressively as men.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Ariane Hegewisch is a Study Director with IWPR.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

Author Finds Technology a Tool Not a Solution in Bridging Divide

By Leah Josephson

People often describe the “digital divide” in terms of high-income individuals’ having access to cutting-edge technology that helps them thrive socially and economically, while low-income individuals are left out. The divide is often cited as a significant source of economic inequality.

At a recent event at Busboys and Poets, Dr. Virginia Eubanks, author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, critiqued this diagnosis as overly simplistic. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Teaching for Change, and DC Jobs with Justice.

Eubanks worked with a group of low-income women who are members of the YWCA community in Troy, NY, and asked the women what they needed. The main problem was not the digital divide. Instead, “more buses, less racism, and fairer employment” were the most popular calls for help.

Eubanks expected these women to have few technological skills. Instead, she found two-thirds of them already working in high-tech jobs, such as data entry or network administration. However, these jobs were low-paying, had few benefits, and were unstable. Technology was ubiquitous in their lives, but they could not use it to improve those lives.

Eubanks realized that simply providing technology and training is not enough to improve women’s lives. Rather, projects need to be designed to account for deeply ingrained racial and gender oppression.

Eubanks, informed by the belief that those closest to problems can best find solutions, worked closely with the women to identify their needs. They created a community technology lab for the YWCA, staffed and sustained by residents, as well as what Eubanks called an “Angie’s List for social services providers,” where the women could provide feedback on their experiences at local assistance agencies.

Even so, access to tech tools was not a high priority for the women. They were more concerned with the basic structural and cultural challenges that affected them on a daily basis—a lack of reliable transportation and workplace flexibility, coupled with racist attitudes.

Eubanks emphasized that technology in itself cannot cure these problems, but it can play a positive role. “We all have a stake in the creation of a more just information age,” she said.

Eubanks noted the creation of new, high-end jobs in technological development—touted by politicians including President Obama as the solution to our country’s economic woes—requires the support of more service industry positions in food service, hospitality, and retail. These lower-income jobs must be fair, provide benefits, and allow for work-life balance to meet the needs of workers.

IWPR has identified other basic benefits that can drastically improve the quality of workers’ lives in the shorter term. For women and their families, guaranteed paid maternity leave (the U.S. is one of only five countries worldwide that doesn’t require employers to provide it) and paid sick days could improve health, well-being, and economic stability.

Pay equity is another problem Eubanks identified. The women would often accept minimal compensation for high-tech jobs, hoping to gain the skills necessary for a higher-paid position. In a society where open discussion of salary is often taboo, these women had little opportunity to identify and express grievances, and only rarely advanced in the workplace.

“Technology is not a destination, it’s another site for struggle,” said Eubanks. In making technological advancements we should consider the quality of life of the workers who perform and enable it. Technology can contribute to a more just society, as long as the privileged consciously use it as a tool to support social justice, and not a ready-made engine of social progress.

Leah Josephson is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

Addressing Concerns of Immigrant Women Helps Communities Nationwide

by Claudia Williams

In recent years, the United States has experienced one of the largest waves of immigration in its history. The immigrant population has almost doubled since the 1990’s and the number of undocumented female immigrants has increased significantly. Immigrant women also make up more than half of new legal immigrants arriving to the United States.

While many immigrant women come to the United States in search of better opportunities, they are often vulnerable to poverty and discrimination and face many barriers in their day to day life, making it harder for them to achieve economic security and to advance in their careers.

Public policies are fundamental to integrating immigrant women into U.S. society. The U.S. Congress,  however, has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform to address the complex challenges our current immigration system creates. In the absence of reform at the national level, many states and localities have introduced and passed anti-immigrant legislation. This is particularly unfortunate for immigrant women, who besides sharing risks with their male counterparts also experience particular difficulties that are more common or unique to them.

IWPR recently released a study that identified some of the challenges Latina immigrants face, such as limited proficiency in English, disproportionate exposure to violence and harassment, and lower earnings and rates of educational attainment. Also, as caregivers, immigrant women are more affected than their male counterparts by the lack of affordable and reliable child care and reproductive health services.

IWPR’s research also found that constant fears of deportation and family separation have led many immigrant women to live in the shadows. Immigrant women may be working “under the table,” without having access to quality jobs and educational opportunities, mainly due to their immigration status. Resulting economic instability prevents immigrant women from contributing fully to our society—we lose valuable resources that could help our country move forward.

Advocacy and service organizations working on the ground with immigrants recognize that an overhaul of the current immigration system is needed. However, advocates and researchers also need to focus more on the concerns of immigrant women. In most policy discussions little or nothing is said about how certain policies (such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), 287(g) and Comprehensive Immigration Reform) would specifically affect women. IWPR’s study found that the limited attention women’s issues receive is an important gap within the immigration grassroots and advocacy movement. Out of 280 organizations interviewed for the IWPR study, only eight advocated with a specific focus on the rights and needs of immigrant women.

A better understanding of women’s challenges and circumstances would represent an important step forward in filling this gap. Many of the issues directly affecting women also affect men and children, so addressing these challenges would be beneficial to the entire immigrant community.

Claudia Williams is a research analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

IWPR’s Pepsi Experiment: Providing Critical Information to Community Leaders

by Jennifer Clark

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research is venturing into new territory. IWPR has been selected to compete in the Pepsi Refresh Project, a voter-driven contest that could win IWPR $25,000 for raising awareness on the status of women. With previous grants going to projects that build playgrounds in local communities or provide spay/neuter surgeries for pets, it might seem like IWPR’s project to provide reliable information on the state of the union for women is a bit abstract for the contest. But IWPR sees the Pepsi Refresh project as an opportunity to demystify the importance–nay, the necessity–of reliable information on women’s lives, their needs, and how addressing these needs strengthens their families, as well as the communities they hold together.

We can’t do this alone, however, and we hope you’ll join with us to show that research–quality, reliable research–on women is key to understanding how communities can better address their needs.

In a time when politicians seem no longer confined by the votes or views of their constituents, and news outlets no longer seem restricted to reporting just the facts, reliable research on how women are faring is essential to community leaders wishing to strengthen families and the economic security of their communities, without demagoguery clouding the issues.  We intend to alleviate the need for research-backed information in public conversation, overpowering outdated misconceptions with real data.

Since its founding in 1987, IWPR has held to the belief that research and hard numbers can be critical for improving communities in a number of ways. Research that respects women’s realities and identifies ways to address their needs can lead to more effective funding of community initiatives and can open up opportunities to inform and improve the community and government structures that affect women’s lives. Here are a few examples of how research has informed community change over the years:

 – The Status of Girls in Minnesota report–prepared by IWPR and its community partner, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota–was used to support the GirlsBEST program, a grant making initiative that focuses on building economic power of girls.

 – Based on the information in the Status of Women in Wisconsin report, a group of community leaders formed Wisconsin Women = Prosperity, a group that has conducted workshops on best practices for employers, as well as on violence against women and what it means for their well-being.

 – Informed by the Status of Women in Tennessee, the Tennessee Council on the Economic Status of Women developed Women’s Resource Directories for economically disadvantaged counties in the state and established a mentoring program for at-risk teenage girls.

 – In 2005, the Women of Color Alliance in Idaho used the Status of Women in Idaho report in their Latino Leadership Summit workshop on domestic violence and its impact on communities and lack of state funding.

Click to vote for IWPR!

With the Pepsi Refresh Project, IWPR hopes to build on these successes and restore reliable, credible information back into community conversations. We believe this project will kick off the effort to bring critical research, not just vague talking points, to community leaders.  To join us in this mission, you can:

Vote for IWPR at the Pepsi Refresh website. (And don’t forget to “Like” us or Tweet about the project after you vote!)

Join the IWPR Facebook event for the project and invite your friends to join.

Sign up to receive a daily email reminder to vote. We want to make it as convenient to remember to vote as possible and we promise to keep the email short.

Spread the word by forwarding this blog post to your friends.

Contribute to IWPR and help us grow our day-to-day efforts to ensure research-backed information informs public policy.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

Putting the Pieces Together: How Social Security Supports Black Women

by Mallory Mpare

The longer Social Security remains on the table for cuts as part of a comprehensive debt reduction plan, the more nervous those close to the program should be. And with good reason. Social Security was conceived as a protection against the risks—such as disability or lack of employment at older ages –that might lead to poverty. It is meant to work in conjunction with other retirement plans or savings as a critical piece of a comprehensive economic security plan. In the aftermath of the Great Recession and in the midst of economic recovery—when unemployment is high (9.1 percent unemployment as of May 2011)— it seems an especially inopportune time to discuss actions which might make people even more vulnerable to the very circumstances Social Security protects against.

While Social Security has benefited men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and income levels, the impact of proposed cuts to Social Security on women of color is particularly troubling. Black women experience higher rates of poverty, are concentrated in low-wage jobs, have fewer employee benefits, and are less likely to work in jobs covered by pensions. This combination of circumstances makes black women particularly vulnerable to economic insecurity at older ages.

Following a fact sheet on the importance of Social Security to Latinas, IWPR released a fact sheet that describes the critical role Social Security plays in the lives of many black women. To begin with, the Social Security benefits received by black women are modest. Black women over the age of 62 average $961 per month in benefits as retired workers. Still, Social Security is the most common source of income for black women aged 62 and older—received by 49 percent of black women aged 62–64, 83 percent aged 65–74, and 88 percent of black women 75 years and older. In fact, a solid majority of black women aged 75 and older rely on Social Security for at least four-fifths of their income.

What would happen to these women if Social Security disappeared? Simply put, without the income received from Social Security many more black woman would live in families or as individuals with incomes below the poverty threshold. If you think this is an exaggeration (as some must, considering the attacks on the program), think again. Even with the program as it stands today, more than one in four black women aged 75 and older lives with an income below the poverty threshold. Without Social Security benefits, six out of ten of these women would live in poverty. When we talk about Social Security beneficiaries, images of the elderly are easily brought to mind. However, 26 percent of black women who receive Social Security do so not by consequence of reaching retirement age, but because of disability. This contrasts to the 12 percent of white women and 14 percent of all adult women combined who receive Social Security benefits due to disability and not age. In other words, for disability benefits alone Social Security is especially important to black women.

It is hard to tell when attacks on Social Security will stop. One thing is for certain: the puzzle of economic security is incomplete without a strengthened Social Security program.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

Young Women Need Paid Sick Days (Too)

by Claudia Williams

While some workers lacking paid sick leave can take time off without losing pay, many lose pay when they are out sick and cannot afford to take a single day off. This is particularly the case for young women. At an early stage in their careers, many younger women workers are living day to day and others juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.  With limited wealth and savings, a large debt from college or even a steady income, younger women often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when illness strikes. Younger women are often not in a position to take lower pay when sick, especially when medical expenses are involved.

While part-time and low-income workers’ concerns are widely discussed, the needs of younger workers are almost unheard of, as it is usually assumed that their health status—without the burdens of chronic health conditions and age—is excellent, and that they don’t yet have care giving responsibilities.

Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), however, shows that young workers need paid sick days just like everyone else. In fact, of those private sector workers that reported having fair or poor health, 30 percent were 35 years or younger and a larger portion were young women (18 percent compared to 12 percent for young men). The same data show that a majority of young workers lack paid sick days; only 37 percent have paid sick days, compared to 58 percent of all workers.

Across the board, younger workers have limited access to paid sick days, no matter what they do for living, what their schedule looks like, or the size of the business they work for. For instance, whether young workers are employed in high-end jobs like legal occupations or in lower paying occupations like  health support, data from the NHIS show that only one out of five workers with paid sick days in those occupations are  between 18 and 35 years old.

For younger workers concentrated in traditionally low-income occupations or small businesses, the picture is even grimmer. Along with part-timers, these workers are most often afflicted, and women are overrepresented in this type of work arrangement. The outlook is especially challenging for young women with care giving responsibilities on top of lower earnings: paid sick days are even more essential for them to to stay afloat. For single mothers, usually with limited resources and often living in poverty, having paid sick days can make a big difference when medical problems arise.

Paid sick days are essential to all workers, but even more so to those with limited resources, including younger workers who are more vulnerable and have fewer resources than many of their older counterparts.

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.