Seventy-seven cents is a number that most women are familiar with. Most recently, President Obama talked about its significance in his State of the Union address to Congress.
“You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”
But the wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together, African-American women make only 64 cents (Latina women making 55 cents) for every dollar a man earns – almost 40 cents less.
That 23 cent deficit – 36 cents for black women — has become branded into references for women’s equality in the workplace based on yearly Census Bureau reports. But after the president’s speech, those figures took a hit, figuratively speaking. Several members of the media fact-checked Obama’s 77 cents figure and criticism ensued.
The Washington Post said, “There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women… make it difficult to make simple comparisons.” Christina Hoff Sommers for The Daily Beast called it a “bogus statistic that won’t die” and said that the president was using a “massively discredited factoid.”
The Pulitzer-winning PolitiFact.com wrote that the president’s statement was mostly true. “It’s worth noting that the entire 77-cent gap is not necessarily due to discrimination — a conclusion some listeners might have drawn when hearing Obama mention ‘equal pay for equal work’ shortly after citing the 77-cent figure.”
So, if the wage gap is not all about discrimination, then what else is it?
In a study put out by the Academy of Management Perspectives (AMP), a group that publishes articles to address important issues concerning management and business, there are seven characteristics or reasons for the 23 cent – 36 cents for black women – disparity in the wage gap. Each characteristic — educational attainment, occupation, industry, labor force experience, union status, “unexplained” and race – represents a certain percentage (leveling out to 100 percent) of the pay gap differential between men and women.
“If we compare full-time women and men, 21 percent of the 23 cent gap (or 4.83 cents per dollar) is due to differences in the industries that men and women are likely to work in,” said Sarah Jane Glynn, the Associate Director for Women’s Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress, in an email.
But out of the seven reasons for the disparity in equal pay for women, the smallest percentage for what causes the wage gap, less than 3 percent, is attributed to racial discrimination. The largest percentage, more than 40 percent is “Unexplained.”
Glynn wrote an article last year analyzing the AMP’s report and said that conceivable explanations for the unexplained category range from “overt sexism to unintentional gender-based discrimination to reluctance among women to negotiate for higher pay.”
“I feel like a majority of the ‘unexplained’ should be racial discrimination,” said Jessica Lewis, a public defender who asked that her name be changed because she is considering a judicial position. “I can’t believe that’s accurate.”
Cornell University economic professors Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn authored the study and in the report explained that race was a controlled variable and its effect is small because the proportion of each racial group in the full-time sample is about the same for men and women. Blau also said that, “The share of black females in the work place is higher than black males,” and “The female participation rates in the workforce are higher for African-American women than for white women.”
Then why are black women 36 cents behind?
“Historically, we have not held the same type of jobs or had the same education and that part of history has affected the view [of black women going forward],” said Gabrielle Sims, 26, a lawyer who works for a law firm in Manhattan.
Blau said that it has to do with discrimination and other factors like the characteristics listed above. She also said that the chart was not the best one to use when analyzing racial disparities in the wage gap and that there needs to be research put forward about this subject.
Clarice Flippin, a retired California resident with 20 years of experience as a project manager for the federal government, said that she sees first-hand how the wage gap affects black women starting at the internship levels.
“They bring in and select non-African-American women in these training programs and they move up faster,” she said over the phone. The training or internship level programs are competitive and are a foot in the door for well-paid government jobs.
Federal government agencies use certain grade levels, GS-7, GS-9, GS-11 and GS- 12, for example, for job applicants and employees. Those grade levels or rankings are based on job experience, education, skills and training. As the worker gets promoted, they move up to a higher level. So, applicants move from entry-level positions, GS-7, to a mid-level position, GS-11, for example, over time.
“They work for the government and earn more than six figures, but they have less education,” Flippin said. She observed that many women she used to work with and were African-American had a master’s degree and made the same amount of money or less women of other racial groups who just had a bachelor’s degree.
“What’s shocking is that women need an additional degree to earn the same amount as a man at every step of the way,” Glynn said. “You’ve got to go get that [much more] to match a man.”
“We have to overcome being women and minorities and unfortunately that’s the burden we have to bear,” said Sims.