Not Just Equal Pay: The U.S. Women’s National Team’s Fight Underscores How an Equitable Economy Can Work for Everyone

USWNT Blog Graphic

By Mia Ogorchock, graphic by Nic Martinez

In the buzz surrounding the World Cup triumph of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), “equal pay” has become a rallying cry, not just for the team, but for their fans. In March of this year, the USWNT filed a gender-discrimination suit against the United States Soccer Federation, Inc., citing unequal pay, training, and travel conditions, compared with the men’s team, despite bringing in higher revenue–and winning more games. Their fight is part of a bigger movement of women across industries advocating for better pay and safer workplaces, while confronting inadequate or outdated economic policies that shape how we live and work.

Women still make about 80.5 cents to every male dollar per year and the gap is even larger for women of color. Based on current trends, IWPR projects that women overall will not achieve pay equity until 2059, while Black women will wait one century (until 2119) and Hispanic women will wait more than two centuries (until 2224) until they reach equity with White men’s earnings.

As the USWNT begins their victory tour around the country, here is a look at the gender-equity policies that would not only narrow the gender wage gap, but would reconfigure the economy to work better for everyone.

Valuing Women’s Work

The call for equal pay for the USWNT—and for all women—has been echoed in op-eds in major news outlets and invoked by 2020 candidates, many of whom have made it a centerpiece to their platforms. For good reason: while there was significant progress in narrowing the wage gap in the 1980s and 1990s as more women entered the workforce and gained entry to many fields and jobs they had previously been excluded from, progress over the last two decades stalled. Women today still earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is enough data to calculate the wage gap.

Researchers find that over half of the wage gap can be explained by occupational segregation: women and men tend to work in different jobs and the jobs men tend to do pay more. The segregation is stark—four in ten (39 percent) working women work in female-dominated occupations and nearly half of men (48 percent) work in male-dominated occupations—and widespread, from staggering wage gaps in top-paying fields to greater concentration in jobs that pay poverty-level wages.

This segregation also affects how the economy values “women’s work.” Low-wage, female-dominated jobs pay less than male-dominated low-wage work, even when women’s jobs are very similar in requirements for education, skills, and stamina: janitors (two-thirds men) make $12.13 per hour, while maids and housekeepers (nearly 90 percent women) make $9.94 per hour. Furthermore, those who perform low-wage women’s work are about twice as likely to have a college degree than workers in male-dominated occupations—yet earn less. As jobs of the future become more digitalized, the trends are concerning: despite being more likely to work with computers and digital media than men, women face a 41 percent earnings gap on returns for their digital skills.

With half of U.S. families having a female breadwinner, the undervaluation of women’s work has real consequences for families, communities, and the economy as a whole. Pay parity would cut poverty in half for working families and add nearly half a trillion dollars in additional wage and salary income to the U.S. economy.

The disconnect between women’s skills and contributions and the gender gap in earnings is paralleled by the USWNT: while the team has qualified for (and won) multiple World Cups, the men’s team famously failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The men’s team is paid more for the games they win in the tournament, despite bringing in less revenue than the USWNT.

Improving Access to Paid Leave and Child Care Would Help Narrow the Wage Gap

In addition to ensuring that women have access to good jobs and high-paying fields, strengthening women’s attachment to the labor force is also key to narrowing the wage gap. We know from a large body of research that improving access to paid leave and affordable child care improves women’s labor force participation, which can in turn improve their earnings.

The earnings penalties for those who take time out of the labor force are high and increasing. For women, who still disproportionately shoulder the burden of care in their families, the effect can be a huge blow to the pocketbook: women who took just one year off during a 15-year period earned 39 percent less than women who did not take any time away from the paid labor force. That is why the gender wage gap as traditionally reported understates pay inequality: women make just half of what men make over a 15-year period

Many working families and single mothers lack access to paid family leave or childcare. Here too, we see parallels with the USWNT’s story: Jessica McDonald, the only mother on the US Women’s National team, has cited issues with paying for child care, including working several jobs at a time to pay for expensive childcare for her son. McDonald’s—and other working mothers’—ability to pursue a fulfilling job and provide for her family relies on being able to access and afford child care. Too many women are unable to do so: women are nine in ten of the workers who cut back paid work to care for children or family members.

As the experiences of the USWNT remind us, equal pay is not just about being paid the same—although that would help. Fighting for pay equality is about fighting for things like access to good jobs, investment in training and supports such as paid leave, child care, and other gender-equity policies that would improve the  economy and reduce inequality for everyone.

Research News Roundup

RESEARCH MAKING THE NEWS

Here’s the effect a $15 minimum wage has on jobs and poverty in low-income areas, according to a new study from Berkeley

James Wellemeyer │││July 9, 2019

A $15 an hour minimum wage won’t slash jobs in low-income areas, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, and it will also help to reduce poverty.

The study, conducted by Anna Godoey and Michael Reich, economists at UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, suggests that a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024would not reduce employment rates, weekly hours worked, or annual weeks worked. The study notes that $15 an hour in 2024 is roughly equivalent to $13 an hour today.

Citing: “Minimum Wage Effects in Low-Wage Areas” by Anna Godoy and Michael Reich at Institute for Research on Labor and EmploymentJuly 2, 2019.

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60% of Tech Workers Told Not To Discuss Pay, Making Gender Gap Harder To Spot

Kim Elsesser │ │ July 11, 2019

According to the survey conducted by Blind, an anonymous social network for discussing workplace issues, 60% of the 5,149 respondents say that they have been discouraged by their human resources department or management from discussing salary information. And the situation isn’t changing much over time. Last year, a similar Blind survey also found that about 60% of employees had been discouraged from sharing data.

Citing: “Over 60% in Tech Told Not To Discuss Salary” by Curie Kim at BlindJuly 10, 2019

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Robots Are Coming for Our Jobs. Here’s Why Women Should be Even More Prepared

Khalida Sarwari │ │ July 17, 2019

As many as 160 million women around the world could lose their jobs over the next decade because of the impact of automation, and a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that women will have a harder time adjusting to the automation of jobs and development of artificial intelligence than men.

Citing: “The Future of Women at Work: Transitions in the Age of Automation” at McKinsey Global Institute, June, 2019

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Women are Now Seen as Equally Intelligent as Men, Study Finds

Alia E. Dastagir│  │ July 18, 2019

In the last 70 years, some gender stereotypes about women have shifted dramatically, while others remain firmly rooted, according to new research published in the American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. The meta-analysis of 16 public opinion polls totaling more than 30,000 U.S. adults from 1946 to 2018 looked at three traits: competence (intelligence, creativity), communion (compassion, sensitivity) and agency (ambition, aggression).

Citing: “Gender Stereotypes Have Changed: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of U.S. Public Opinion Polls From 1946 to 2018” by Alice H. Eagly, Christa Nater, David I. Miller, Michèle Kaufmann, and Sabine Sczesny at American Psychologist Association, July, 2018

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New Technology Sparks More Worry for Black and Hispanic Workers

Jeff Green │  │July 24, 2019

Technology is definitely changing the workplace. Perspectives on whether that’s an opportunity or a threat depend a lot on racial identity, according to a new survey of 2,000 workers released Wednesday. Black and Hispanic workers are more concerned about new technology in the workplace compared with white or Asian workers, according to the survey. They were also less likely to say they saw efficiency gains.

Citing: “Racial Differences on the Future of Work: A Survey of the American Workforce” by Ismail White at Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, July 24, 2019

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NEW RESEARCH REPORTS

The Economic Effects of Abortion Access: A Review of the Evidence

Anna Bernstein and Kelly Jones │ Institute for Women’s Research │ July 18, 2019

This report reviews the available evidence of the economic effects of abortion access. By synthesizing high-quality research that estimates causal effects, this review highlights the relationship between abortion access and a number of economic outcomes, including women’s educational attainment, labor force participation, and other socioeconomic indicators for the next generation of men and women.

This report focuses on U.S.-based evidence, most of which relies on policy changes in the 1970s, but also includes a brief review of international evidence and an examination of the fertility effects of more recent changes to abortion access. The report closes with a discussion on policy implications, conclusions, and areas for future research, given the evidence on the causal relationship between abortion access and economic outcomes.

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Minimum Wage Effects in Low-Wage Areas

Anna Godoey and Michael Reich │Institute for Research on Labor and Employment │ July 2, 2019

A proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would increase the relative minimum wage – the ratio to the national median wage– to about .68. In Alabama and Mississippi, our two lowest-wage states, the relative minimum wage would rise to .77 and .85, respectively. Yet research on state-level minimum wage policies does not extend beyond $10; the highest studied state-level relative minimum wage is .59. To close this gap we study minimum wage effects in counties and PUMAs where relative minimum wage ratios already reach as high as .82. Using ACS data since 2005 and 51 events, we sort counties and PUMAs according to their relative minimum wages and bites. We report average results for all the events in our sample, and separately for those with lower and higher impacts. We find positive wage effects but do not detect adverse effects on employment, weekly hours or annual weeks worked.

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Feasibility Study and Evaluation of Non-Traditional Occupation Demonstrations

Carolyn Corea Luke Patterson, Manan Roy, and Neha Nanda │ United State Department of Labor│ July 28, 2019

The impact study found statistically significant positive effects in South Seattle on outcomes 2 (clicked on a link in an email) and 3 (completed an interest form). In New Mexico, the evaluation team observed a change in magnitude and direction of the impact estimates from negative and statistically significant for outcome 1 (opened the email) to nearly zero for outcome 3.1 Completion rates for the two exploratory outcomes—outcomes 4 (looked for more information) and 5 (enrolled in the program)—were low overall in the two demonstration sites as well as for both treatment and control groups within sites.

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The Future is Ours: Women, Automation and Equality in the Digital Age

Carys Roberts Henry Parkes, Rachel Statham, and Lesley Rankin │Institute for Public Policy Research │June 16, 2019

Automation will produce significant productivity gains that will reshape specific sectors and occupations. These gains are likely to be recirculated, with jobs reallocated rather than eliminated, economic output increased, and new sources of wealth created. The problem is likely to be one of how income and wealth are distributed. Automation could create a ‘paradox of plenty’: society would be far richer in aggregate, but, for many individuals and communities, technological change could reinforce inequalities of power and reward.

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Are Marriage-Related Taxes and Social Security Benefits Holding Back Female Labor Supply?

Margherita Borella, Mariacristina De Nardi, Fang Yang│ The National Bureau of Economic Research│ July, 2019

In the U.S., both taxes and old age Social Security benefits depend on one’s marital status and tend to discourage the labor supply of the secondary earner. To what extent are these provisions holding back female labor supply? We estimate a rich life-cycle model of labor supply and savings for couples and singles using the Method of Simulated Moments (MSM) on the 1945 and 1955 birth-year cohorts and we use it to evaluate what would happen without these provisions. Our model matches well the life cycle profiles of labor market participation, hours, and savings for married and single people and generates plausible elasticities of labor supply. Eliminating marriage-related provisions drastically increases the participation of married women over their entire life cycle, reduces the participation of married men after age 55, and increases the savings of couples in both cohorts, including the later one, which has similar participation to that of more recent generations. If the resulting government surplus were used to lower income taxation, there would be large welfare gains for the vast majority of the population.

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A Unified Welfare Analysis of Government Policies

Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser│ Opportunity Insights │July 2019

We conduct a comparative welfare analysis of 133 historical policy changes over the past half-century in the United States, focusing on policies in social insurance, education and job training, taxes and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers. For each policy, we use existing causal estimates to calculate both the benefit that each policy provides its recipients (measured as their willingness to pay) and the policy’s net cost, inclusive of long-term impacts on the government’s budget. We divide the willingness to pay by the net cost to the government to form each policy’s Marginal Value of Public Funds, or it’s “MVPF”. Comparing MVPFs across policies provides a unified method of assessing their impact on social welfare.

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