Written as a speech for NSAA speech 2018.
April 4th, 2017 was Equal Pay Day, the day chosen to be dedicated to the awareness of women's salaries and the blatant gap that separates their salaries from men's. This fact begs the question: Why do women have to work 16 months, versus 12, to make the same amount of money that the men earn for the same job and the same amount of work? The gender wage gap between men and women in the United States has been, and still remains, a huge, troubling issue. The federal government is doing almost nothing to equalize it, and women of every age, race, and ethnicity are victims of the wage gap. Today we will investigate how race affects a woman's earnings, we will examine how the gender wage gap affects women in their daily lives, and finally, we will analyze the consequences of and solutions to the gender wage gap.
First, we will investigate how race affects a woman's earnings. Despite the progress the United States has made when it concerns gender equality, women receive an average of nearly 20% less income when compared to Caucasian men who work the same amount. This means that a woman earns an estimated 80 cents per dollar a white man makes, as recorded by the United States Census Bureau. However, when taking into consideration a woman's race, the gap becomes even wider.
Picture this: gathered is a group of 125 people who have the same occupation and work full time, year-round. Present are 100 women, 25 each of the four most common ethnicities in the United States: Caucasian, African-American, Asian, and Hispanic. We separate all of the women into groups according to ethnicity, and then bring in 25 Caucasian men. One would expect everyone's salaries to be roughly the same. However, this is not the case. When comparing the women's salaries to the men's, we find that Caucasian women receive a median of only 79 cents to the men's dollar, Asians 83 cents, African-Americans 62 cents, and Hispanics a mere 54 cents. These statistics clearly show that there is a discrepancy between men's and women's wages across ethnicities.
For example, in July 2013, an African-American woman named Cheryl Hughes sent in her story to the American Association of University Women, or the AAUW, about her experiences with pay inequity in the field of engineering. In 1995, Cheryl was hired with a starting salary of $39,600. When her request for a higher starting salary was refused, she decided to accept the offer and work her way up.
One year later, Cheryl had continued to refine her skills as an engineer, even after she found out she was still being underpaid, making a salary of about $44,400. Later still, when a white woman was hired at the firm, Cheryl was told that the new hire was making almost $47,000, despite having only a bachelor's degree—Cheryl had a master's—and having less experience.
In 1998, nearly four years after she was initially hired, Cheryl accepted a new position. Her manager spoke to her about her own experiences with pay inequity, and was extremely shocked by Cheryl's salary. During Cheryl's annual review, her manager submitted a request for a 15% salary increase, but the request was denied.
After more than three years of advocating for pay equality to her manager, to her director, to her group Vice President, and to Human Resources, Cheryl decided to sue the company at both the state and federal level. Every single case was rejected. For the next 16 years, Cheryl continued to work as an engineer and earned a taxable income of nearly $768,000, but Cheryl could have made nearly 1.8 million dollars. Due to the gender wage gap, she had lost over a million dollars during the life of her career.
Next, we will examine how the gender wage gap affects women in their daily lives as it relates to paying for secondary schooling. About 70% of all college students have student loan debt by the time they graduate, with an average of about $31,000 in debt per graduate, according to the Student Loan Report. Today, women outnumber men in almost every US college and university. Unfortunately, because of the wage gap, women take about two years longer to pay off their student loans, as stated in a study done by the New York Post. The study found that Caucasian women who graduated in 2008 payed off an average of 33% of their loans by 2012 if they were working full time. On the other hand, Caucasian men were able to pay off an average of 44% of their loans within the same time period. Because the wage gap is even larger for African-American and Hispanic women, the amount of money those women were able to put toward paying off their loans was even less, with African-Americans paying off 9% and Hispanics a meager 3% of their debt. The fact that women are burdened by student loans longer than men are, affects the financial aspect of women's lives in other ways as well; because they earn less and are also trying to pay off their debt at the same time, they have less money available for retirement or emergencies.
In April 2016, a woman named Khallilah Beecham-Watkins gave an interview to the AAUW about the debt she had acquired by attending college. As a first-generation student, she had a lot of emotional support from her family, but had some difficulties making her way through the financial aid process. She thought she was ready for what came next. However, she didn't really understand the terms and conditions for student loans and also didn't think about how the loans would impact her after college. She certainly wasn't expecting to postpone her life goals to pay off her debt.
As someone extremely active in high school extracurricular activities, Khallilah thought that once she applied for scholarships, she would receive tons of money and would never have to worry about it again. This assumption was partially true. She received a merit-based scholarship that took care of her out-of-state tuition and, along with federal loans she had received, this was enough to cover the amount of money needed for each school year. She went through the processes without a second thought; all it meant to her was getting to attend her dream school.
Over the course of earning her Bachelor's degree, Khallilah accumulated $70,000 in debt and will continue to pay it off until she is nearly forty. She and her husband now have to put their dreams on the back burner due to the heavy burden of student debt.
Finally, we will analyze the consequences of and solutions to the gender wage gap. Many Americans pose the question: why should we care? The gap, historically, shows evidence of a gradual decrease. In the year 1960, the gap between all US women and Caucasian men was 40%, as stated by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. By 2016, the gap had shrunk to 19.5%. Because of the steadiness of this gradual decrease, people were able to predict the approximate year in which the wage gap was supposed to close completely. In 1960, the gap was predicted to close in 2059, according to the AAUW. However, the rise in women's salaries has plateaued in the past decade, causing the projected year to rise to 2119, an additional 60 years, and shows no signs of improving at a more expedient rate.
Solutions to closing the gender wage gap sooner include not only promoting better work-life policies, such as paid medical leave, but also supporting anti-discrimination efforts and enforcing adherence to the Equality Pay Act of 1963. This Act, signed by former President John F. Kennedy, states that it serves as "an Act to prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce". This means that employers must pay the men and women working for them equally, without discrimination between the two genders. Unfortunately, as the above evidence suggests, this Act has been largely ignored, since there is a gender earnings gap in 98% of all occupations in the United States.
Today we have investigated how race affects a woman's earnings, we have examined how the gender wage gap affects women in their daily lives, and finally, we have analyzed the consequences of and solutions to the gender wage gap. Indisputably, males and females should be compensated equally for their work. However, because of the existing wage gap, many women are unable to support themselves and their families. The time has come for women to come forward, assume decision-making roles, and propel us toward a country that is equal for everyone.