5 Points to Bring Up to Win an Argument about the Gender Wage Gap

by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Barbara Gault, Ph.D., and Ariane Hegewisch

The 79 percent wage ratio figure, the most commonly used figure to measure the gender wage gap in the United States, is often derided as misleading, a myth, or worst of all, a lie. In this blog, we argue that the figure is an accurate measure of the inequality in earnings between women and men who work full-time, year-round in the labor market and reflects a number of different factors: discrimination in pay, recruitment, job assignment, and promotion; lower earnings in occupations mainly done by women; and  women’s disproportionate share of time spent on family care, including that they—rather than fathers—still tend to be the ones to take more time off work when families have children. Just because the explanation of the gender wage gap is multi-faceted does not make it a lie.

When a phenomenon, such as the wage gap, can be explained by various factors, it does not mean the phenomenon doesn’t exist.  In fact, those explanations are the exact factors to look at when identifying interventions to solve the problem. Take another phenomenon for example: poverty. Black and Hispanic populations in the United States have higher poverty rates than the white population. When analyses control for education, place of residence, type of job, and many other factors, the remaining differences in poverty rates are smaller but not gone. It is not a myth or a lie, then, to say that black and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty. Indeed, they are.

Here are five key facts to remember about the gender wage gap:

1) Other data series on weekly or hourly earnings are not necessarily more accurate than the annual figure.

Some claim that proponents of equal pay use the 79 percent annual wage ratio figure because it shows the biggest wage gap, 21 percent, when other data series on weekly and hourly earnings available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show slightly smaller gaps. There is no basis for the claim that weekly or hourly data are a more accurate representation of inequality in pay between men and women. The 79 percent annual wage ratio figure is the historical headline figure, likely because it allows the longest comparison across time and includes the broadest range of different kinds of earnings, including self-employment income. Annual bonus payments, for example, are a big part of remuneration in some fields and are included in the 79 percent figure, but are excluded from the weekly or hourly earnings figures. Both the weekly and annual earnings ratios are for full-time workers only; if part-time and part-year workers were included, the ratios of women’s to men’s earnings would be even lower, as women are more likely than men to work reduced schedules, often in order to manage unpaid childrearing and other caregiving work.

2) The annual wage ratio of 79 percent is actually a moderate estimate of gender pay inequality.

If part-time workers were included, a figure that Statistics Canada uses, the wage ratio would be 69.9, a gap of 30.1 percent.  The United Kingdom has used life-time earnings ratios.  One IWPR study found that across 15 years (ending in 1998, using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics), the typical American woman earned just 38 percent of the typical man. The Urban Institute, using Social Security earnings data, finds that the typical wife earns about 50 percent of what her husband does across their working lives. In fact, the 79 percent figure falls in the middle of the range of these other estimates.

3) Women’s ‘choices’ are not necessarily choices.

Wage gap skeptics emphasize that women ‘choose’ different and lower-paying college majors than men, implying such differences mean that the wage gap measure is not a good measure of economy-wide wage inequality.  ‘Choice’ is, of course, an unverified assumption. There is considerable evidence of barriers to free choice of occupations, ranging from lack of unbiased information about job prospects to actual harassment and discrimination in male-dominated jobs. For instance, a library assistant may choose to go to school for 6 more years to become a librarian, or she may choose to go to school for half that and become an IT support specialist, if she knew that librarians and IT support specialists were paid roughly the same per year. In a world where half of IT support specialists were women and half of librarians were men, men and women might ‘choose’ very differently than they do now. We do know that young women and men generally express the same range of desires regarding their future careers in terms of such values as making money and having autonomy and flexibility at work, as well as time to spend with family.

4) There is no proof that being a mother makes a woman less productive on the job.

There are legal cases, as well as social science research studies, that show that just by the mere fact of being a mother, women’s advancement opportunities shrink, and just by being a father, men’s grow. And why should women who may be decades past the phase of active childrearing still be suffering a wage penalty?  While it is true that women typically take more time away from work for child rearing than do men, that decision often makes economic sense when a wife’s wages are lower than her husband’s—equal pay would likely lead to more equitable sharing of child rearing. In fact, women’s human capital (generally measured as years of education plus years on the job and in the job market) are increasingly equal for women and men.  Furthermore, research shows subsidizing the cost of child care and providing paid parental leaves of up to six months would help women return to work sooner, and would help men to more equally share care.

5) Discrimination is still a factor—a big one—in the gender wage gap.

It is true that, when factors such as occupation and parental or marital status are used as control variables in statistical models aiming to explain what ’causes’ the wage gap, the size of that gap is reduced, and what is left unexplained is generally thought to possibly be the result of discrimination. But it is just as likely that discrimination affects these ‘control’ variables as well as the size of the remaining gap. Peer reviewed literature surveys published in mainstream economics journals, including a recent study by Francine Blau and Lawrence Khan estimate that 38 percent of the gross wage gap remains unexplained when factors reasonably thought to affect productivity are included as control variables in the models. Blau and Kahn estimate that occupational segregation—where women work in lower paid jobs, typically done by women, and men work in higher paying jobs typically done by men— along with segregation by industry and firm, are now responsible for half the wage gap.  While some occupational differences result from differences in preparation for the labor market by women and men, others result from different job assignments by employers when women and men first participate in the labor market.

It is important to look at the 79 percent figure as a baseline to understand the true magnitude of the problem, so we can intervene on factors such as employer bias, career preparation, and time spent on family care. When we look at the control variables, the findings do not indicate that the wage gap is actually a smaller problem than we thought. The findings indicate that women need more information and opportunity to pursue certain lucrative careers, like those in STEM, where the largest employers are only now providing paid family leaves that can encourage the more equal division between women and men. Redressing the US lag in providing paid family leave and subsidized child care can help, but so can improved information about pay and stronger enforcement of our equal opportunity laws.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is a labor economist, president and founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and a MacArthur Fellow.

Barbara Gault, Ph.D., is the vice president and executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Ariane Hegewisch is a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Job Training and Support Services In-The-News: Week of April 4, 2016

Weekly Roundup of the news on women and supportive services in job training programs.

By Asha DuMonthier

Job training can provide an entry into family-sustaining jobs and careers. Many women in job training programs, however, face obstacles to success. Wraparound services—such as child care assistance, access to public benefits, and transportation or housing assistance—can help adults, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities, to complete programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing.


April 7, 2016

Monroe Courier: ‘Baby shower’ to support women’s education center

The Mercy Learning Center has a saying — educate a woman, educate a family. […] But a low-income woman in need of literacy and job skill programs could face an additional challenge if she is also the parent of a small child. Mercy’s day care center allows the women with infants and toddlers to attend classes and counseling sessions and meet with tutors without any worries about their young children.

KSPR: Closing the gender gap could grow the economy by $2.1 trillion

Every U.S. state has the potential to grow its economy by at least 5% if it can narrow the gender gap over the next decade, the McKinsey report [The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States] asserts. That means boosting women’s participation in the labor force as well as their (paid) work hours. It also means focusing efforts on creating jobs in industries that typically have hired fewer women than men, such as manufacturing and business services.

[…] Creating those jobs will require an additional investment of at least $475 billion, much of which would probably need to come from the private sector, the report suggests. That money could be invested in everything from infrastructure and innovation to talent development and skills training.

April 6, 2016

YourAlaskaLink: Downtown Soup Kitchen Hopes to Help Homeless Women Learn Job Skills

“We want to give women more than just the shelter, we want to give them a hand up and an ability to get some job training and to have something to get up in the morning for so we started the bakery,” Sherrie Laurie who is the Executive Director for the Downtown Soup Kitchen said.

The Bakery consists of a morning class where the women learn the technical aspects of baking before heading down to the kitchen in the afternoon, where they are taught the hands-on skills.

March 30, 2016

TheEagle: Veterans in San Antonio guided forward after being homeless

Guerra and the three members of his so-called navigator team combine the roles of outreach specialist, peer mentor and case manager. True to their title, the navigators seek to guide veterans living on the streets or in shelters into a place of their own, and then, over time, toward self-reliance.

The approach treats housing as the start of their reintegration rather than the endpoint. The navigators assist veterans in pursuing a new future by connecting them to drug and alcohol treatment, mental health counseling, medical care, job training and other supportive services.

 

Job Training and Support Services In-The-News: Week of March 27, 2016

Weekly Roundup of the news on women and supportive services in job training programs.

By Asha DuMonthier

Job training can provide an entry into family-sustaining jobs and careers. Many women in job training programs, however, face obstacles to success. Wraparound services—such as child care assistance, access to public benefits, and transportation or housing assistance—can help adults, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities, to complete programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing.


March 29, 2016

Grays Harbor Talk: YWCA of Olympia Brings Economic Empowerment Program to Grays Harbor County

The Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) is a free job-training program for young women between the ages of 16–24, which provides gender-responsive hands-on experiences at the YWCA Other Bank (hygiene product distribution center), individualized life and career support, mentoring and work placement prospects. Women who complete the program may be eligible for a financial stipend. In addition to hands-on job training, EEP offers a weekly well-being workshop for job trainees focused on strengthening the executive functioning and soft skills necessary for success and access to Kathleen’s Professional Clothing Closet.

[…] The program ensures that women are equipped with competence, confidence and connections to help them succeed in the workplace, move beyond minimum wage employment and experience financial and familial stability.

March 27, 2016

CT Post: Program works to keep low-income women from dropping out of college

Citing trends that show younger single mothers often working in low-wage jobs, if they are employed at all, the program’s founders decided to tackle a skills gap that is keeping more women and families in poverty. AT HCC, the program includes a workforce development component, coaching support, financial literacy development and access to community supports and more, in addition to scholarships and emergency financial aid.

March 26, 2016

The Commercial Appeal: Guest column: Let’s improve the odds for rural families

That complexity is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FY2017 Budget invests in evidence-based and other promising practices to respond to the full range of challenges for families in rural America.

[…] We also want to help rural communities implement “two-generation” strategies to combating poverty, providing grants to communities to more efficiently align workforce development for parents with early childhood education and child care for their kids. It simply makes sense: a single mom is going to have a tougher time finishing community college if she has to worry about child care.

Job Training and Support Services In-The-News: Week of March 21, 2016

Weekly Roundup of the news on women and supportive services in job training programs.

By Asha DuMonthier

Job training can provide an entry into family-sustaining jobs and careers. Many women in job training programs, however, face obstacles to success. Wraparound services—such as child care assistance, access to public benefits, and transportation or housing assistance—can help adults, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities, to complete programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing. 


March 24, 2016

Affordable Housing Finance: Workforce Shortages and Creative Partnerships

HomeAid Northern Virginia is taking this one step further and addressing the workforce issue by convening our partners around job training and job placement. Partnering with select construction trade businesses to understand the type of workers they need and the skills they are looking for, we are matching these needs to the workforce training programs that our nonprofit service provider partners offer to their clients. The hope is to create a virtuous cycle: build capacity in the local skilled labor workforce and change the lives of vulnerable individuals by providing them job skills and a path to employment with our partner companies.

Today in our local area, formerly homeless individuals are now being placed in jobs in the homebuilding industry and are being provided the support they need in terms of housing, transportation, childcare, financial management, and more.

March 23, 2016

CRAIN’s Detroit Business: Report: Detroit workforce faces variety of obstacles

The Detroit Workforce Development Board, established last year to create jobs to revive the city of Detroit, faces many obstacles, according to a new report released Wednesday by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

While the city is abundant in work-readiness programs, secondary-education institutions mostly exist outside of the city, proving difficult for Detroiters who lack transportation options. Chase recommends greater coordination between the educators and training programs to improve services to low-skilled workers, such as food, housing or child care services and transportation assistance.

North Fort Myers Neighbor: Deadline for medical office program extended

The Lee County Department of Human Services’ award-winning Lee Education and Employment (L.E.E.) Medical Office Skills Program is once again on the horizon. Twice a year, the classes are offered to people who are interested in gaining a career in a higher-paying profession such as medical clerical positions to get themselves out of poverty.

[…] The L.E.E. Program is offered at no cost to eligible applicants. Students receive paid training/tuition, Intensive case management, books, assistance with the cost of child care during class hours and other supportive services.

March 21, 2016

Next City: Grand Rapids Company Unlocks the Potential of Former Inmates

Fortunately, McKinley was put in touch with Hope Network, a faith-based organization and Cascade partner that provides job training, early work experience and logistical support to help recent inmates and other disadvantaged workers transition into the workplace. Hope Network’s Workforce Development Program helped McKinley land an initial position clearing vacant lots to build up his resume, which then helped him land his first job at Cascade.

[…] Another major lesson from this work was the need to take environmental factors that could jeopardize attendance, such as issues with transportation, housing or child care, into account. Since the late 1990s, Cascade has co-employed (with DHS) a full-time case manager to help new employees troubleshoot these issues, which has dramatically reduced absenteeism and turnover.

 

Job Training and Support Services In-The-News: Week of March 14, 2016

Weekly Roundup of the news on women and supportive services in job training programs.

By Rachel Linn

Job training can provide an entry into family-sustaining jobs and careers. Many women in job training programs, however, face obstacles to success. Wraparound services—such as child care assistance, access to public benefits, and transportation or housing assistance—can help adults, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities, to complete programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing. 


March 16, 2016

The Buffalo News: Another Voice: Workforce development system must work for all (by Jeffrey M. Conrad is New York State director of the Center for Employment Opportunities)

A Partnership for the Public Good publication, “Working Toward Equity,” went further and pointed out that local unemployment rates are higher and earnings are lower for African-Americans and Hispanics even during this improved economic period. Additionally, many residents who are working poor or frequently unemployed face multiple barriers to employment, such as low educational levels, language barriers, criminal backgrounds, disabilities and limited means of transportation.

Given that Buffalo’s unemployment is down and our economy is much stronger today, this is the ideal time to focus our efforts on these populations that need additional services. If we want to have an inclusive economy, then we need to expand funding for programming that works to help connect people with employment barriers to the workforce.

March 16, 2016

Park Rapids Enterprise: Editorial: Job fair offers great opportunity to find work

Barriers do exist for those struggling to make ends meet, many depending on state and county services.

A good number of folks in the community deal with social issues that make it difficult to find and hold down a job. Lack of permanent housing, transportation difficulties, childcare challenges, chemical dependency, mental health issues, or just plain lack of motivation. At the same time there are also many who face these same issues and overcome the obstacles. It can be done.

Social services, mental health professionals and other providers in the community work to get people “off the system” and on the road to self-reliance.

March 14, 2016

Industry Week: Modern Day Rosies: Portraits of Women in Manufacturing

The Jobs to Move America coalition teamed up with California Institute of Technology for Women’s History Month, organizing the Women Can Build photography exhibit. The exhibit, featuring photographs by Pulitzer Prize winner Deanna Fitzmaurice, reveals the overlooked contributions of skilled and hard-working women who are building our trams, rail and buses. Jobs to Move hosted several Caltech faculty to comment on how women around the world are achieving and fighting for equal rights, equal pay, equal access, and equal opportunity in the workplace.

Job Training and Support Services In-The-News: Week of March 7, 2016

Weekly Roundup of the news on women and supportive services in job training programs.

By Rachel Linn

Job training can provide an entry into family-sustaining jobs and careers. Many women in job training programs, however, face obstacles to success. Wraparound services—such as child care assistance, access to public benefits, and transportation or housing assistance—can help adults, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities, to complete programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing. 


March 11, 2016

Duluth Budgeteer: Students try construction trades hands-on

Orrey was one of 650 students from Denfeld and Duluth East high schools who attended Construct Tomorrow, a hands-on exploration of careers in the construction trades for young people, sponsored through a partnership between the Building Trades, the Duluth Public Schools, the City of Duluth and Lake Superior College.

Thoughts like that are exactly why Amy Hoover of Cement Masons Local 633 was there. Hoover is a third-year apprentice who wants to see more women in the trades.

“A lot of them might think, ‘Well, I’m a woman. It’s not something that’s traditionally a choice for me.'” Hoover said. “So my being here is a way of saying, hey, this is something that you too can think about doing, too. If I can, you can.”

March 10, 2016

Denver Post: Construction firms look to untapped resource for workers — women

Eustace and other women in Colorado’s construction industry would love to tip the scales a little more toward female, though, especially as many contractors struggle to find workers to meet construction demand.

A number of Denver-area companies are recruiting women for apprenticeship programs, in hopes of bolstering numbers both in the field and in technical and leadership positions.

“The sky’s the limit within construction for women. There are so many positions and opportunities that are starving for more female candidates,” said Karla Nugent, chief business development officer for Weifield Group Contracting in Denver. “Multitasking, organization, better communication — we really need that in construction. So many of the positions, they will train if you have basic skills they can build on.”

March 10, 2016

Knoxville News-Sentinel: Op-Ed: SNAP to Skills provides path to self-sufficiency

Tennessee has been selected as one of 10 states to take part in a program to help connect some food stamp recipients with the training and assistance they need to get jobs through the new SNAP to Skills program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About 80 percent of those using SNAP are seniors or people with disabilities who are unable to work, Vilsack said. SNAP to Skills will focus on the 20 percent who are capable of working but face some barrier to a job such as limited access to transportation or lack of job skills.

State agencies will get help in developing initiatives to help low-income, low-skilled people get the type of training and schooling employers demand. Programs may include job-search training, basic-skills training, English-language learning, vocational training, self-employment or on-the-job training, and job-retention services.

March 9, 2016

Arkansas Online: State effort aims to fill skilled jobs

Thousands of jobs are available in Arkansas with salaries above the state’s average income but there are not enough qualified workers to fill them, state leaders said Tuesday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and representatives from the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Delta Regional Authority and Wal-Mart announced the start of an initiative, “Be Pro Be Proud,” to tell Arkansans of the relatively high-paying jobs.

Much information about the jobs and current openings is available at beprobeproud.org, a website developed to promote the higher-paying jobs.

March 9, 2016

Duluth News Tribune: Community Foundation launches $1.5 million grant fund to address opportunity disparity

The Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation aims to address that disparity with the launch of a $1.5 million Opportunity Gap Initiative Fund. That money, from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, will be used to offer grants to partner organizations working to help financially disadvantaged families find pathways to a brighter future.

Zastrow identified several fronts where low-income families could use some help.

“Families lack resources and support systems, including transportation … child care, out-of-school programming, education, housing, health care, job training, financial stability and mental health services,” he said.

Job Training and Support Services In-The-News: Week of February 29, 2016

Weekly Roundup of the news on women and supportive services in job training programs.

By Rachel Linn

Job training can provide an entry into family-sustaining jobs and careers. Many women in job training programs, however, face obstacles to success. Wraparound services—such as child care assistance, access to public benefits, and transportation or housing assistance—can help adults, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities, to complete programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing. 


March 2, 2016

New Hampshire Union Leader: Hassan’s work program could cost up to $100m over 5 years

“Through Gateway to Work, we will strengthen job training, create new apprenticeship opportunities, help remove the barriers that cause too many of our citizens to fail in the workplace and help our young people get a leg up on their futures,” Hassan said while promoting the proposal Wednesday at Manchester Community College.

The plan would provide funds for workers to pay for child care and transportation as well as pay the employee’s salary for six weeks. It also would provide for expanded in-home visitation to work with more at-risk parents and help them enter and stay in the workforce, Hassan said.

“What we saw from our experiences is so many folks that we had hired that we thought would be good workers were failing because of personal barriers, not because of aptitude,” Sullivan said. Many workers faced issues over getting to work or caring for children, he said.

February 26, 2016

York Daily Record: “Pathway of Hope” to help impoverished families

A nationwide effort to help families become self-sufficient and overcome the cycle of poverty is now being offered at The Salvation Army of York.

It’s called the “Pathway of Hope,” and it’s intended to help families overcome barriers that keep them in crisis, said Mindy McCormick, regional coordinator. It could be the lack of job training or difficulty finding affordable child care to work in the evening, for example.

Case workers will work with the families to develop steps to reach their goals, she said. Families will spend 6 months to two years in the program.

February 26, 2016

Banner-Press: Grant boosts youth initiative

According to Nation, the greatest barrier for unconnected youth in Southeast Nebraska is the lack of living wage jobs. Other closely related barriers include the lack of affordable, high-quality child care, housing, public transportation and health care.

BVCA will provide youth assessments, Central Access Navigation, case management, mentoring, financial literacy training, help saving for a vehicle to alleviate transportation needs, RentWise classes, referrals into Head Start for child care, housing assistance and educational/job training referrals. BVCA will also oversee the creation of youth councils to provide input into the services and processes.

February 21, 2016

The Gazette: Good pay may be way to attract more women into construction field

Work in the construction industry often is seen as tough, grueling and dirty. But once the dust has settled, it can offer opportunities and good pay.

But the construction industry still is trying to rebuild its workforce after the recession and as baby boomers retire. Some say now is a good time for more women to pick up the tool belt.

“There’s a great opportunity for women in the industry, it is a great time for them to get in,” said Chad Kleppe, president of Master Builders of Iowa, a construction association. “Construction is in drastic need for workers and it is a perfect time to consider. Employers are willing to train and work with candidates to work them into what they need. It is very advantageous.”

February 13, 2016

Trib Live: Women struggle to escape unemployment, study finds

Unemployed women older than 50 have had a particularly difficult time getting back into the workforce since the recession ended in 2009, despite an improving labor market and unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.

The impact on older women can be especially harsh because they are less likely to have pension balances that would support them, experts say. Unemployment benefits generally provide half a person’s weekly wages and run out after 26 weeks.

More likely are the family considerations that attend decisions to work.

“I think that could be a big factor,” Monge-Naranjo said. “Firms like to hire people that they are a little more certain about the prospects … and traditionally, it has been the case that women are the ones taking time off.”