By Melody Wilson
Monday, April 23, 2012
The worst pay disparities are not male-female, they are experienced by people of color, writes Melody Wilson.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Equal Pay Day last week focused on gender, but there is plenty of workplace inequality that goes beyond the monochrome of men and women.
There are also huge gradations in color.
Workplace Fairness, citing a report from the American Sociological Review, notes that "white men are twice as likely to get management jobs as equally qualified black men, and three times as likely as black women." What gives?
Nearly fifty years ago, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was enacted to, among other things, establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity.
Particularly relevant to this discussion, the act forbids employment discrimination against persons because of their race, religion, sex, or national origin.
In 2010, women working full-time in the United States made only 77 cents on their male coworkers' dollar. Women constitute half of the work force, but only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Fewer than 20 percent of the seats in Congress are occupied by women.
"In every field, at every level of education, men earn more than women," Amanda Hess writes for Good magazine. The American Association of University Women agrees, observing in the recent 2012 edition of its gender pay gap report that "in nearly every line of work, women face a pay gap."
The past few weeks have spotlighted this longstanding problem. The Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, repealed his state's equal pay law in early April, arguing that "money is more important for men."
Our discussion about workplace inequality should not stop with the wage difference between men and women. When women are living with and related to men whose incomes are suppressed along with their own, inequities and harsh social stressors are compounded. If you care about the low earnings of women, particularly women of color, you should also care about their male counterparts. Women don't live -- or work -- in a vacuum.
The same AAUW report that finds an ongoing gender pay gap also notes the effect of discrimination on women and men of color. While both Hispanic and African American women earn 91 percent of what Hispanic and African American men earn, all four of those average salaries are lower than white women.
Here are some of the hard numbers. On average, white men earn $856 a week, while white women earn $703 a week. Hispanic women earn $518 and Hispanic men earn $571 in that same time period. African Americans do marginally better at $595 for women and $653 for men. However, Asian American men and women are at the top of the heap, at $970 and $751 a week, respectively.
According to the AAUW report, "The smaller gender pay gap among African Americans, Hispanics, and Latinos is due solely to the fact that African American, Hispanic, and Latino men, on average, earned substantially less than white men in 2011." Compared with the average salaries of white men -- the largest demographic in the labor force -- Hispanic women make 61 percent, African American women make 70 percent, white women make 82 percent and Asian American women make 88 percent of the pay.
The Center for American Progress breaks such differences down into chart form, asking, "What could you do with an extra $10,784 per year?" The report concludes that with the extra $431,360 lost over a lifetime of work, a woman could buy two houses; seven four-year degrees; 14 new cars; or she could feed a family of four for almost 37 years -- on the lost wages alone. The same applies to men of color, and women of color lose out on even more.
President Obama issued an executive order last August for government agencies to increase workplace diversity, in terms of both ethnicity and gender. John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "We will only succeed in our critical mission with a work force that hails from, represents and is connected to the needs of every American community."
Obama alluded to the color disparity earlier this month as well, commenting that "women are a growing number of breadwinners in the household, but they're still earning just 77 cents for every dollar a man does -- even less if you're a Latina or African American woman.
"When any of our citizens can't fulfill the potential that they have because of factors that have nothing to do with talent, or character, or work ethic, that diminishes us all," Obama concluded in his speech. "It holds all of us back. And it says something about who we are as Americans."
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Despite moves forward made toward equality over recent decades, workplace inequality among women and minorities persists. In order to change that, we must keep the issue of pay inequity from being reduced simply to the difference between men and women. Workplace discrimination occurs across color lines as well, and that cannot be ignored. We simply can't afford it.