There is a $1 billion chasm between the collective annual earnings of working women and their male counterparts in Washington, D.C., according to a new report published by D.C.-based nonprofit National Partnership for Women & Families on Equal Pay Day April 12.
According to the report, women employed full-time and year-round in the District earn an average of 90 cents to each man’s dollar, totaling an annual wage gap of $7,214. This aggregates to a $938 million loss for D.C. women every year.
The National Partnership estimated that without this wage gap, a woman in D.C. would be able to afford an average of five extra months of rent, 59 more weeks of food for her family or three additional months of mortgage or utility payments. Women serve as the primary breadwinners for 42,000 family households in the District.
“These women, their families, businesses and the economy suffer as a result,” the report reads. “Lost wages mean families have less money to save for the future or to spend on basic goods and services — spending that helps drive the economy.”
The report further found that this disparity persists across the educational and occupational spectrum. Women with doctoral degrees are paid less than men with master’s degrees, while women with master’s degrees are paid less than men with bachelor’s degrees.
The National Partnership attributed these factors to discrimination and bias still dogging working women who possess comparable educations and experiences to men.
“Statistical analysis shows that 62 percent of the wage gap can be attributed to occupational and industry differences; differences in experience and education; and factors such as race, region and unionization,” the report reads. “That leaves 38 percent of the gap unaccounted for, leading researchers to conclude that factors such as discrimination and unconscious bias continue to affect women’s wages.”
Nevertheless, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce chief economist Nicole Smith said these figures may not paint the whole picture, citing majors that tend to attract more women and fewer higher paying jobs.
Smith claimed that gender influences choices in college major and occupation, causing women to opt for careers that often pay lower wages.
“If you look at all the doctors who tend to be women, female doctors prefer to be pediatricians and obstetricians much more than surgeons, who are the top-earners,” Smith said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to do with social constructs and influences early on in life — women seem to always prefer care-giving, social occupations.”
Worker Justice in D.C. Alternative Break Program leader Laura Fairman (SFS ’18), who also serves as GUSA Student Advocacy chair, highlighted the importance of addressing the wage gap, pointing to women’s pragmatism in making financial choices.
“Investing in women increases development and the economy substantially more than investing in men does, because if you invest in women, they will spend much more in investing in nutritious meals for their children, investing in their children’s education, putting away for college,” Fairman said. “Women are really pragmatic decision-makers financially, and they generally invest [more] directly in their children or community initiatives than men.”
The National Partnership’s data also indicated that women of color earn even less than their white peers, with Latina and black women earning on average a respective 50 and 56 cents to every white, non-Latino man’s dollar.
Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor research fellow Shalina Chatlani (SFS ’17) stressed that structural racism hinders wage parity for minority women.
“There are so many causal links, and unless there’s an overhaul on attitude in the US that completely rejects bigotry and racism, there will continue to be ways to push blacks and minorities to the edges of society,” Chatlani wrote in an email to The Hoya. “A lot of single mothers tend to be minorities – this means you can’t work full time, which means you get a lower wage job, and you can’t work as much. If you’re a young single mother, you can’t finish school, which leads to a low-wage job.”
Fellow Kalmanovitz scholar Pamela Escalante Gonzalez (SFS ’17) said changing attitudes rather than policies can bridge the wage gap, drawing on her experiences surveying workers about minimum wage policy.
“It’s unconstitutional and illegal to do all of these things, but policy doesn’t get people to care. Policy doesn’t get people to change the way they look at the issue,” Escalante said. “Policy will only go so far as the people who are supposed to be enforcing it will let it go. It takes people to get change.”
Escalante said with her approaching graduation, confronting the wage gap seems more pressing than ever.
“This is a fear that I definitely face graduating from this institution, knowing that my white, male peers are going to be paid more than I am for doing the same amount of work simply because they are more marketable than I am as an immigrant, as a Latina and as a gay Latina,” Escalante said.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.