Color Lines Create Widest Pay Gaps

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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 The Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, repealed his state’s equal pay law in early April, arguing that “money is more important for men.”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.

Race Matters

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.  

Melody Wilson is the communications coordinator for the International Reporting Project and a freelance writer. For more of her work, visit Melody and Words.

9 thoughts on “Color Lines Create Widest Pay Gaps

  1. You have failed to account for education. When you state that Asian men and women are “at the top of the heap,” without noting that apples to apples, Asian men and women earn less than white men and women, but that Asians and Asian Americans tend to have higher educational levels than white men and women–because U.S. immigration laws for a long time only granted entry to professionally educated Asians (after not granting them entry at all), and that, too, only because the U.S. feared the USSR was surpassing it technologically, you fuel anti-Asian sentiment and unfounded jealousy.

    • excellent statement shan. I have the following.Warren Farrell, three-time board of directors member of the National Organization for Women New York City, exhaustively debunks the wage gap myth in his book “Why Men Earn More.” Farrell documents occupations requiring bachelor’s degrees in which women’s starting salaries actually exceed men’s. Female investment bankers and dieticians, for example, can expect to earn 116 percent to 130 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries.

      The real reason than men tend to out-earn women is the choices they make. Men are far more likely to take unpleasant and dangerous jobs, what Farrell calls the “death and exposure professions.” For example, firefighting, truck driving, mining and logging — to name just a few high-risk jobs — are all more than 95 percent male. Conversely, low risk jobs like secretarial work and childcare are more than 95 percent female.

  2. Wage Gap Myth… women execs actually earn MORE than men, not less

    As much as feminists love to parrot the statistic that women earn only 76 cents on the male dollar, they rarely bother to provide an explanation or solid evidence for this claim. But fortunately a smart new book has hit the shelves just in time for Equal Pay Day to help them out.

    Equal pay for equal work has been enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act since it was made law in 1972. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also ban sex-based wage discrimination. So it seems pretty remarkable that the wage gap is so wide and pervasive even today. Attorneys should be having a field day with class-action lawsuits. But they are not. Could it be that even the legal establishment is complicit in this glaringly obvious patriarchal conspiracy?

    • No, the legal establishment is not complicit in this ugly conspiracy, but rather, chooses to fight by starting our own firms and hiring our own women to counter this wage gap!

  3. Although I love this article, I believe that precious little will ever be done to combat this dilemma, and yes it is a dilemma. Mainly because even among women, we fail to address the “elephant in the room” of race and negative images and stereotypes. I’m not surprised by this article. It’s what I knew as an African-American woman with a law degree. It is disappointing, and oh, how I wish the stereotypes of being the smartest applied to us, but instead we battle the uphill dirge of stereotypes held by other women surrounding “the black women.” Sadly, these negative images are not just from men. Let’s get down to the bottom of affirmative action, and who it truly benefits – another elephant that is rarely, if ever discussed! Let’s have discourse about the whys and what we need to do to insure that all women are included regardless of race, without stereotypes. Imagine if we as women, no matter race, ethnicity or party affiliation could all stick together, and instead of feeding the elephant by ignoring him, come to the table and discuss how we could help each other. I think the article would definitely read differently. I agree with Madeline Albright, “[t]here is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Wow, we’ve got centuries of history where we as women have failed to help each other whether it’s because we can’t relate or we’re just unconcerned. Statistics are good, but a group of women unified can change even the stats…Just my thoughts!

  4. Its unfair how you stated that white women make more money compared to other races. Here is why. White women have more degrees than any other demographic yet they are paid the least when compared to people with equal education of different races and genders. That should give you pause, because what is really going on here? There is a backlash against white women in this country. We are forgotten, we are made fun off and we are paid less for our achievements. The fact that you didn’t address this issue serves to prove the point. So please do not write stories that give people more reason to hate us especially when the whole story is not presented and we are suffering the same plight. Try to find how we are the same rather than divide us. We will all have way more power that way.

    • I don’t think that stating this fact does anything to denigrate white women in the way that pointing out that women, as a broad gender group, earn less on average than men takes anything away from men.

  5. Some of the commenters here have an excellent points. There are larger social issues that account for these income disparities.

    Education is a big one. As I mentioned in my piece, Amanda Hess wrote about the relationship between higher education and higher wages for women in Good magazine. She found that there is a “persistent pay gap between male and female employees who hold comparable degrees.”

    More here:

    That article was based on a U.S. Census Bureau report that states, “Women earned less per month than men at every degree level.”

    More here:

    Women are surpassing men by record numbers in college enrollment and completion, and more women are expected to have college degrees, a recent Pew study found.

    Here’s more from that report:
    “There are also racial and ethnic patterns underlying these gender trends. Among young adults, whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to complete college. In 2010, 39% of whites ages 25-29 had at least a bachelor’s degree. That compares with 19% of blacks and 13% of Hispanics. Asian-Americans are more likely than any of these racial or ethnic groups to graduate from college—53% of those ages 25-29 had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2010.”

    And here are some other interesting articles on Women’s eNews about social factors that affect pay inequality: