The Gender Pay Gap Is Real - So What Can We Do About It?

011217-N-9769S-207 Ready for Working PartyThe American Association of University Women (AAUW) has released the 2015 edition of their guide, "The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap."

Since the 1970s, when women's annual earnings were only 57% of men's annual earnings for full-time workers, the gender pay gap has narrowed, due in part to women's advances in education and workforce participation. Still, in 2013 women were only making 78% of men's earnings and, in the past decade, the pay gap has barely budged.

After accounting for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status, AAUW found that only one year after graduation there was a 7% difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates that could not be explained. This gap only increases with time and age.

Women also experience other barriers in the workforce, such as the "motherhood penalty." Mothers who eventually decide to return to the full-time workforce are less likely to be hired compared to women without children, and when they are, they are offers a lower salary. Fathers, on the other hand, often receive a wage increase after having a child.

The gender pay gap - still accounting for women and men's life choices - is far worse for women of color; Hispanic and Latina women earned only 54% of what non Hispanic white men earned in 2013. The smaller gender pay gap among African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and Native Hawaiians is solely due to the fact that men of those races/ethnicities were also paid less than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Education has been shown to explain part of the difference in earnings between different racial/ethnic groups, but part of the racial pay gap cannot be explained and is likely due to discrimination.

In matters related specifically to Pennsylvania, House Resolution No. 326 would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study on income inequality in the state. Between 2009 and 2012, average incomes increased by 3.7% in Pennsylvania. However, the bottom 99% of earners in Pennsylvania experienced a decline in real wages by 1.1%; the top 1% saw an increase of 28.6% in their wages.

Wage distribution has become highly unequal as the highly skilled workers at the top experience real wage gains while workers at the bottom experience real wage losses. While the shocking increase in income inequality in the United States is largely driven by the continuous increase in the share of total income accumulated by the richest 1% of America's households, the gender and racial wage gaps both contribute significantly to the problem as well.

The study will investigate the specific factors that have contributed to the increase in income inequality, including the gender and racial wage gaps, after which the Committee will be required to submit a report of its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the House of Representatives.

In the end, equal pay isn't just a women's issue - it's a family, community, and national issue. And as an Asian-American female in college, I am less than eager to graduate to a pay gap. Individually, once I do graduate I can negotiate for a higher starting salary - something that will affect subsequent raises and benefits. Knowing what my skills are worth, making clear what I can contribute, emphasizing common goals, and maintaining a positive attitude are some tactics that I plan to use at the negotiating table.

But even though I will negotiate, I also must continue to educate myself on my legal protections in the workplace, recognize where protections are not sufficient, and advocate for and back strong legislature that will promote pay equity.

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