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US Marks Equal Pay Day Amid Pay Disparities Between Men, Women

The Biden administration Tuesday is commemorating Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how much longer women must work to make what men earned in the previous year. Last year, the day fell on March 24.

“Our country has come a long way, but we still have work to do to close gender and racial wage gaps,” a senior administration official told reporters on a briefing call previewing the announcement.

American women on average still earn only 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The disparities are even greater for Black, Native American and Latina women, as well as certain subpopulations of Asian women.

Later Tuesday, President Joe Biden is set to announce a series of actions to enhance pay equity and transparency in the federal work force, including a proposed regulation that would prevent federal agencies from using a job applicant’s prior salary history in the hiring process. Banning the use of prior salary history can help break the cycle of potentially discriminatory pay that can follow women and workers of color from job to job.

Those steps, however, do not address the gender wage gap in the private sector, including in industries with an even larger gender pay gap such as finance, where on average, men take home $33,000 more than women doing the same work every year.

While a growing number of European countries require employers to publish or provide their employees access to gender pay data, the United States does not mandate pay transparency in its private sector. The Obama administration had mandated that large companies report how much they pay workers by race and gender but the Trump administration, under pressure from big business groups, halted the rule in 2017.

“This administration should re-start those efforts,” said Seema Jayachandran, a professor of economics at Northwestern University who focuses on gender equality. “While EEO (equal employment opportunity) rules uncover if the work force is gender-imbalanced, they don’t reveal if women are in the low-paying jobs and men are in the high-paying jobs, or if in similar jobs, there is a gender pay gap,” she told VOA.

The White House did not respond to VOA’s question on whether officials plan to reinstate the rule.

Low wage and no paid leave

“The existence of low-quality work – i.e., work that is low wage and without access to critical benefits such as paid leave – and the concentration of women, particularly women of color, in this work, is the biggest contributor to the pay gap,” said Rose Khattar, a member of the Economic Policy Team at the Center for American Progress.

The situation has worsened during the pandemic. Women, who perform the majority of unpaid family caregiving, must deal with greater challenges managing work and care, with children home from school and older family members losing access to critical care services. In addition, women workers are overrepresented in industries that experienced the pandemic’s worst job losses, such as hospitality.

The Department of Labor on Tuesday issued a report on occupational segregation showing that in 2019, Black women lost $39.3 billion and Hispanic women lost $46.7 billion in wages compared to white men due to differences in industry and occupation.

Some experts argue that mandating paid leave for new parents could help narrow the gender pay gap. The United States is the only developed country that does not have a national paid parental leave program.

“One in four women in America are said to go back to work within 10 to 14 days of giving birth, which is astonishing and awful; it is terrible for working women,” said Adrienne Schweer. Schweer leads the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Paid Family Leave Task Force.

Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act sought to provide national paid family leave, but the massive $2 trillion social spending bill is struggling in Congress, failing to gain support not only from Republicans, but also from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.

“It has really fallen off the cliff and it needs a bipartisan pathway,” Schweer said. “This president really needs to call on Congress to work together.”

Also Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female American vice president, is hosting an Equal Pay Day virtual summit attended by administration officials, athletes and CEOs.