As Missouri’s legislative session opens, this is a great time to discuss closing the pay gap, a public policy issue deserving urgent attention. Also known as Equal Pay for Equal Work, it addresses the fact that men, particularly non-Latino white men, make more money than women doing the same work with comparable experience.
The struggle for wage equality has received much attention and indeed has been a long hard slog. White women are still being shorted the money owed due to blatant gender bias.
African-American and Hispanic women have the largest wage gap. They make 64 cents and 57 cents, respectively, to a white man’s dollar; white women make 78 cents. Women represent 51 percent of the labor force, and African-American women make up more than 53 percent of the black labor force.
Some may be surprised to learn that Asian-American women make the most, 87 cents. But bear in mind that Asian-American women are only about three percent of the U.S. population. Missouri generally mirrors these national figures.
African-American men also experience pay gaps in relation to their white male counterparts, but black men still earn more than black women doing the same work. Even African Americans may find this surprising. The old saw that black women are freer than black men could contribute to this thinking. This myth has been debunked on numerous occasions and needs to be laid to rest once and for all
State Senator Karla May (D-St. Louis) recently filed a bill seeking to rectify these pay differentials. Senate Bill 682 addresses “provisions relating to employment practices based on gender.” May assumed office in 2019, representing District 4 of St. Louis city and county, having served in the House until 2018. She has not let grass grow under her feet. However, this issue needs a full-court press with a broad base of support to make sure that this bill becomes law.
Because there are racial and gender structural barriers for black women, they are hardest hit. Many are concentrated in low-paying jobs, trapped in a cycle of poverty, consequently relegated to a permanent underclass. They are triply oppressed by class, race and gender and knocked out by a one, two, three punch. But – get this – men earn more in traditional women’s work (undervalued and underpaid) such as servers (waitresses), teachers, administrative assistants (secretaries) childcare workers, social workers and healthcare.
Professional women are not spared. For example, women college professors – even physicians, including surgeons – experience pay gaps. Hence all women lose, driving home the point that economic justice for all is a civil rights issue. Furthermore, our livelihoods are increasingly dependent on women’s wages as they are the primary or co-breadwinners in more than 60 percent of American households.
Women are well-springs of resilience and resistance, but they can’t do it alone. That’s why we applaud and support Senator May for her forward-thinking leadership. Groups such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW ) and the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis (WFSTL) along with others have joined to push for pay equality and Senator May’s legislation. AAUW has been campaigning for this right for decades. It’s now time to get solidly behind this critically important issue for women to get paid like everybody else and receive what they deserve.
Co-written with the AAUW/WFSTL Pay Equity Working Group.
Malaika Horne is an academic writer, book author and journalist, who writes extensively on topics from politics, health, social causes to women’s issues.