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Yes, the Gender Wage Gap Is Real, New Report Says

Nicole Knight

"We’re basically saying we’ve measured it a lot of different ways, and it exists, and it’s real, and unfortunately it has not gone away," said Elise Gould, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute and a co-author of the report.

A major research report out Thursday from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) aims to inform the national discussion about workplace policies with a new analysis showing the gender wage gap is real.

“We’re basically saying we’ve measured it a lot of different ways, and it exists, and it’s real, and unfortunately it has not gone away,” said Elise Gould, an economist with the nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based think tank EPI, in a phone interview with Rewire.

Drawing on national and regional surveys of pay, occupational categories, and educational attainment, the report drills down on different aspects of the gender wage gap to measure it across race, education, work experience, and other factors. Among the key takeaways: Unequal pay hits women of color the hardest, and the “motherhood penalty” is real. Mothers earn roughly 4.6 percent less per hour than women who are not mothers, even after controlling for education and experience.

The authors of the report note that the gender wage gap costs the average woman more than $530,000 over a lifetime. The average college-educated woman pays an even steeper price—losing nearly $800,000 in wages over a lifetime.

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The highly detailed report describes how different employment figures produce different gender wage gap numbers—sometimes causing unnecessary confusion.

As Gould, who co-authored the report, told Rewire, “Sometimes people claim that because there’s not one answer that everyone agrees on … there’s less certainty and therefore the [gender wage gap] doesn’t even exist.”

Such disparities, however, don’t disprove the gender wage gap, Gould said.

The typical woman, for example, makes 80 cents for every dollar a man earns when the underlying data is from the U.S. Census Bureau, which excludes part-time workers. But when EPI analyzed microdata from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which includes part-time workers, the gap shrinks a bit, with women earning 83 cents compared to men.

“What we find is when you get down to it, no matter how you measure it … we are left with some sort of gender wage gap,” Gould said.

Gould noted that the report drew on earlier research showing that women of color are hit with a “double penalty of the racial gap and the gender wage gap.”

When compared to white men, Black and Latina women earn only 65 cents and 58 cents on the dollar, according to the report.

This means that Black women take home $7.31 less per hour than white men, and Latina women take home $8.91 less per hour than white men. In contrast, the typical white woman brings home $4.00 less per hour and Asian women take home $2.15 less per hour than white men.

Discrimination can be blamed for much of the wage gap between Black people and white people, as a report released last month by EPI suggested. That report found that the difference between what Black people and white people earn, both men and women, is larger than it’s been in nearly 40 years.

Thursday’s report includes a few bright spots. Women fare better in unionized workplaces, with the typical unionized woman worker earning 89 cents for every dollar a unionized man makes.

Gould said union contracts offer “more transparency on how wages are set, less inequality.”

The report comes weeks before a presidential election in which the Democratic and Republican candidates have laid out sharply different visions of workplace policies, such as paid leave to care for a child.

While the report offers no policy prescriptions, a panel discussion hosted by EPI on October 26 will explore policies to bridge the distance between men’s and women’s wages.

“What are the structures we can create in our society to help support women at work and men at work, balancing work and family?” Gould said of the coming discussion. “Child-care policy and paid family leave, along with a minimum wage … are absolutely important.”

Although the overall distance between what men make and what women make has narrowed over the years, “about 30 percent of that is from men’s wages dropping,” Gould told Rewire.

“We need think about the fact that … typical men’s and women’s wages over the last 30 to 40 years have risen incredibly slowly,” Gould said. “And we need to think about solutions that will help not only women’s economic prospects but men’s economic prospects.”

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