JEC Hearing: Gender Wage Gap Is Systemic Problem, Needs Public Policy Response
Today, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC)—led by Chairman Don Beyer (D-VA)—will hold a remote hearing titled “The Gender Wage Gap: Breaking Through Stalled Progress.” The hearing will explore how the gender wage gap is a systemic issue in the United States that deserves a comprehensive public policy solution.
In 2019, a woman working full-time and year-round was paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to her male counterpart, translating to a loss of $10,000 in median earnings each year. However, the topline number does not provide a full picture of the gender pay gap for all women. While Asian and white women earned 87 and 79 percent, respectively, of what white men earned in 2019, Black women earned only 63 percent, Native American women 60 percent, and Latina women earned 55 percent. While no amount of a gender pay gap should be tolerated, acknowledging how the gap varies across women is essential to finding solutions that would narrow and eventually close the gap.
Women are overrepresented in low-paying occupations, such as care work, reflecting the low value that society attaches to work that traditionally was done by women in the home. Closing the gender wage gap is not only the right thing to do for women and communities across the country, but it is also the right thing to do for the economy. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that if working women received equal pay with comparable men, the U.S. economy would be bigger by 2.8 percent of GDP, or $541 billion.
Chairman Beyer said:
“Addressing the gender wage gap will require a multi-faceted approach. No single policy is going to close it. But there are many policies that, together, will help narrow it. Raising wages in low-paying occupations that tend to be dominated by women, would provide the greatest benefit to the women in these jobs while also benefiting all workers.
“An important way we can do this is by strengthening the minimum wage and improving workers’ bargaining power, such as through legislation like the Raise the Wage and PRO Acts.
“Gender and racial discrimination are the second largest driver of the gender pay gap.
That’s why policies that address the ongoing role of discrimination in the labor market will be absolutely necessary to make a meaningful difference in the gender wage gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act is one example of a policy that would make it easier for women to challenge pay discrimination.
“Finally, we also need policies that help keep women connected to the labor market and moving up the career ladder, such as paid leave and affordable childcare. We can’t make progress towards narrowing the gender pay gap if we don’t make it sustainable for women to remain in the workforce through policies like the Building an Economy for Families Act, the FAMILY Act, or the Childcare for Working Families Act.”
(Chairman Beyer’s opening statement is here.)
Dr. Marlene Kim said:
“Because the source of the wage gap is most likely stemming from subtle, unconscious gender bias, narrowing the gap further is likely to be more difficult than in previous decades. This is why keeping records to see if firms are hiring, promoting, training, and mentoring women in their representative numbers is critical—employers are unlikely to spot these gender biases without such data.
“Once discrepancies are spotted, employers can affirmatively implement policies to ensure that representation by gender occurs, which will help advance women and close the gender pay gap. Implementing comparable worth will single-handedly remedy gender bias in compensation structures, and this has been successfully implemented in localities, states, and countries.
“Diversity, gender-free bias, and sexual harassment training will allow employees to understand how seemingly small behaviors can hinder women’s progress in their careers and perpetuate the gender wage gap. And as the pandemic showed very clearly, child care and family care is essential work that prevents women from fully participating in the labor market. Paid family and medical leave and affordable, accessible childcare is critical so that women can prosper in their careers.”
Dr. Michelle Holder said:
“It’s easy to attempt to scapegoat women in general for the wage gaps they endure by asserting that they, as a group, lack, for example, adequate negotiating skills. But it would be incorrect to do so. Research by Gerhart and Rynes (1991) as well as Laura Crothers et. al. (2010) shows that even when women engage in the same salary negotiating strategies as men their economic returns are lower. Research also shows that when Blacks attempt to assertively bargain fair salaries they are perceived as aggressive, and risk either losing employment offers or being offered lower salaries for violating employer’s expectations, when compared to their white male counterparts engaging in the same behavior (see Hernandez et. al. 2019).
“The burden of shrinking the double gap lies primarily with employers who must recognize and acknowledge that they are underpaying Black women, writ large, and take measures to rectify this. But CEOs are not going to do this of their own volition, so we need our policy advocates, policymakers and legislators to push corporate America in the right, and fair, direction.”
Ms. Ai-jen Poo said:
“Congress has a profound moment of opportunity to rebuild and reset our economy to be more inclusive and equitable. Work that is associated with women has traditionally been less valued. Care jobs are the quintessential example of this. The pandemic has only revealed and deepened inequity for women who were already struggling. By supporting efforts to raise wages and improve the quality of low-wage jobs -- beginning with the jobs like care jobs, historically associated with women and women of color -- we can promote equity from the bottom up, ensuring that all working women are valued, and paid well enough to support their families. We can break the patterns of gender inequality that appear in our economy, among care workers like domestic workers and the other women workers in the economy that they support every day.”