Op-Ed: The Wage Discrimination In The US Must Stop

By Olivia Schmid || Staff Writer

To eliminate wage discrimination, we need a stronger emphasis on equal pay for equal work because discrimination affects everyone, regardless of race and gender.  

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the wage gap between the earnings of a white American and that of an African-American is continuously widening. The BLS also reported that in 2016, black men in the US earned an average of $18 per hour, while white men had average hourly earnings of $25. 

More recently, women who worked full-time on salary had median earnings that were 81% of their male counterparts’ earnings in 2018.

Doesn’t it make sense to make equal pay for equal work a standard? If two people with the same qualifications work at the same workplace and execute the same job over the same amount of time, shouldn’t they get paid the same amount, leaving aside their gender or race? 

As if these discrepancies weren’t bad enough already, women of color seem to face the biggest disadvantage in the workplace. The same study referenced earlier showed that Hispanic women earn roughly 54 cents for every white American man’s dollar, and black women earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white American man. This means that women of color earn barely half of what the average white male earns. 

This wage inequality then contributes to family income, or lack thereof. For millions of families in the United States, women’s earnings are essential, sometimes as the only source of income.  The current wage gap only makes it harder for families that are already hurt by unemployment, a more widespread issue for families amidst the current pandemic. According to the US Census Bureau, the typical woman will lose an average of $431,000 in pay over a 40-year career due to not being paid equally. In some states and occupations, this amount is even higher.  If women’s earnings are so critical to their families’ stability, why do we limit their well-deserved money?

The lack of action taken against wage discrimination has consistently set back women hundreds of thousands of dollars presently and throughout their entire career, which in turn negatively impacts their families and long-term assets.  

Keep in mind this is all happening despite laws already in place against wage discrimination.  For a quick history lesson, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires men and women to be given equal pay for equal work in the same workplace if they demonstrate equal skill, effort, and responsibility. This act covers it all—salary, overtime pay, bonuses, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, benefits, and more. Despite this, many companies and industries as a whole disregard the law, as evidenced by the aforementioned statistics.

In addition to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, other notable legislation includes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate based purely on sex specifically regarding pay and benefits, while the other three make it illegal to retaliate against an individual for opposing discriminatory employment practices.

It has been argued that the wage gap is nonexistent. Rob Drury, the executive director at the Association of Christian Financial Advisors, claims that there is no such thing as wage inequality or a gender wage gap. Vincit-Lee Lloyd, the founder of a social media agency in Cape Town, simply states, “Companies are not sexist, they pay you for what you are worth.” A degrading statement, to say the least.

To support his argument that there is no pay gap, Drury referenced a study done in 2012 from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found that women made approximately 96 cents to every man’s dollar that year. This means that women were almost making the same amount as men. That slight difference in the study’s findings does make opposition to the wage gap understandable. It seems very minor and insignificant, almost to the point of being nonexistent.

However, a difference in pay for the same job at the same workplace is just that—a difference in pay.

No matter how small the difference may seem, it adds up as time goes on. Emily Martin, Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center states, “the wage gap really impacts women across their career and life spans […] a woman working full time, year-round will lose more than $10,000 a year to the wage gap.” For several occupations, these minoritized groups lose more money than this.

And yes, while this form of discrimination is not evident in every workplace, that fact that it happens at all is the problem. In the midst of all the progressive movements in today’s society, equal pay for equal work is a no-brainer. And yet, according to the US BLS, progress on narrowing the gap has virtually stalled for the last thirteen years.  

Thirteen. Whole. Years.

If Americans continue to ignore this very important issue, the wage gap can and will continue growing wider. Because of this possibility, it is of utmost importance that Americans of all different genders, races, beliefs, and backgrounds come together to fight for a cause that benefits us all. 

First-year Olivia Schmid is a staff writer. Her email is oschmid@fandm.edu.

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