Equal Pay/Fair Wage

Wage Gap Is Wider for Women of Color

Friday, April 23, 2004

Minority women's earnings lag not only those of men, but also those of other women, according to a study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Authors hope the findings will fuel gender-pay policies that consider race and ethnicity.

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Released on Equal Pay Day

The report was released in conjunction with "Equal Pay Day," a national event sponsored by various women's organizations, including the National Committee on Pay Equity, to publicize the goal of ending wage discrimination against women and people of color.

Many women's groups use the report, Women's Economic Status in the States: Wide Disparities by Race, Ethnicity and Region, to spread the word that, even as women make progress, the gap in wages will likely take years to eradicate.

The National Women's Law Center, in a press release, called for stronger enforcement of the Equal Pay Act by enacting provisions of the Paycheck Fairness Act, now incorporated into the omnibus Civil Rights Act of 2004.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would ensure effective remedies for wage discrimination and make it easier to sue on behalf of groups of women.

The Washington advocacy group also urged passage of the Fair Pay Act, which would address the problem of paying lower wages in fields dominated by women and people of color.

"One of the problems that women and people of color face in the work force is that female-dominated and jobs dominated by people of color are undervalued and underpaid," said Deborah Chalfie, senior counsel of the National Women's Law Center. "That is a feature of the labor market that is clearly an impediment to pay equity. We believe that these two legislative measures would be two huge steps in addressing some of the structural factors that contribute to pay inequity as well as addressing them in a procedural area."

Michele Leber has been fighting this battle both personally and as the chair of the National Committee on Pay Equity for more than 20 years. She and other librarians in Fairfax County, Va., sued the county to receive wages in line with other salaries paid by the county.

"My field is predominately female and studies have shown that the higher the percentage of women in a field, the lower the salary," Leber said. The case was dismissed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which said the case did not fall under its jurisdiction.

"We don't expect them to get far in a Republican congress," said Leber, referring to current attempts to pass legislation guaranteeing equal wages, "and even though these bills were introduced years ago, we expect them to take years more to get passed."

Marianne Sullivan is a New York-based freelance writer who writes frequently on economics and finance.

For more information:

Institute for Women's Policy Research:

National Women's Law Center:

National Committee on Pay Equity:



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