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Congress Should Shine Light on Wage Disparities

Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Two leading Democrats in Congress asked its investigators to gather information comparing the earnings of mangers--by gender. The results dismayed them and now, they say, their colleagues should hold hearings that push for explanations.

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Two leading Democrats in Congress asked its investigators to gather information comparing the earnings of mangers--by gender. The results dismayed them and now, they say, their colleagues should hold hearings that push for explanations.
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Carolyn Maloney

(WOMENSENEWS)--We knew the glass ceiling still existed for working women, but we thought it was thinning, or cracking around the edges, or becoming more flexible, maybe even developing a few holes here and there.

No such luck. In fact, it appears to be getting worse. It is time for Congress to hold hearings on the problem.

Last year, we shared the general feeling that American women had made amazing progress on the job since wide gaps in pay and executive-suite promotions were first documented 20 years ago. Surely the general economic upturn of the 1990s had ended the disparities. We asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to compare what men and women in management positions are being paid now.

The findings are shocking. In all 10 industries that employ the majority of American working women (71 percent), women managers are still making less on average than their male counterparts. And in seven of the 10--all private-sector areas--the pay gap has actually increased since 1995.

Only in three fields did the 1995 gap diminish, although it still exists: education, public administration and hospital and health-care services. And those fields--public sector or heavily regulated fields dominated by women--are the lowest-paid of the bunch. Far from catching up, women managers actually lost ground in seven areas: professional medical services; entertainment and recreation services; finance, insurance and real estate; business and repair services; retail trade; and other professional services. In 1995, a full-time woman communications manager made 86 cents for every dollar a male counterpart made; in 2000 she made 73 cents.

There's not a line of good news in the entire report. The widest gap of all is between men and women who are parents. Mothers who are managers earn only 66 cents to every dollar that manager fathers receive. And fully 60 percent of the managerial women have no children at home, having deferred or given up that option or waited until children are grown before becoming managers. Only 40 percent of the male managers are in the same situation.

Our economy has not spread the wealth during its recent growth; it has grown the disparities. In two-thirds of U.S. households, women make half or more of the household income. Women are in fact now more than 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, but they are still only 12 percent of the managers. Pay discrimination against women hurts America's families. This is no longer a woman's issue--it is everybody's issue.


We Must Take Action to Turn This Around

First, Congress must hold hearings to explore possible reasons for the alarming growth in the pay gap. Sheer discrimination may be only part of the answer. The Bush administration's first reaction to our findings was to dismiss them as the result of more young and inexperienced women entering the workforce. But the report speaks only of managers, who are more senior by definition. In fact, Census data show that younger women stay more or less equal to men until they are about 33 years old. That's when they start entering management and the gap begins. The study controlled for marital status, age, education, race, and bonuses and did not try to compare wages across industry lines. So what is at the root of the problem?

The report raises more questions than it answers, but it leaves no doubt that the gap is real.

As a long-term cure, we have reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment. The fears that helped derail it last time--that it would bring unisex toilets, women in combat, and mothers working night shifts--have become commonplace without it. It would allow class-action suits for sex discrimination and set a strict standard for enforcement of laws giving women equal rights. And who, outside the Taliban, will now dare to say that women should not have the same legal rights as men?

Finally, and most important, we hope to draw the spotlight of public attention to generate pressure for change. Clearly one problem is non-enforcement of existing laws: minimum wage at the federal level and equal pay for equal work at the state level. But this administration has shown little interest in women's equity.

First, they downgraded the White House Women's Liaison Office. And just two months ago, they attempted to shut down the Department of Labor's regional offices on women--a move that was halted only after strong protest from Congress.

We thought life in the workplace would be fairer to our daughters. That hasn't happened. Americans should start asking their employers, their members of Congress and their union leaders why this is so. They need to hear your outrage, for if women themselves don't care about getting justice, nobody else will either.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, and Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, co-sponsored the General Accounting Office report on Social Security.

For more information:

Equality 2020
GAO Report: "Women in Management":
(Adobe/Acrobat PDF format)
http://www.equality2020.org/Women.pdf

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)
"A New Look Through the Glass Ceiling: Where are the Women?":
(Adobe/Acrobat PDF format)
http://www.house.gov/maloney/issues/womenscaucus/glassceiling.html

Also see Women's Enews, January 27, 2002,
"Women Lose Ground in Top Jobs, Pay":
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/796/