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US Marks Equal Pay Day Amid Pay Disparities Between Men, Women

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President Joe Biden speaks during an event to celebrate Equal Pay Day and Women's History Month in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, March 15, 2022.

The Biden administration Tuesday is commemorating Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how much longer women must work to make what men earned in the previous year. Last year, the day fell on March 24.

President Joe Biden announced a series of actions to enhance pay equity and transparency in the federal work force, including a proposed regulation that would prevent federal agencies from using a job applicant's salary history in the hiring process. Banning the use of salary history can help break the cycle of potentially discriminatory pay that can follow women and workers of color from job to job.

"It's my hope that this sets an example for all private companies to follow as well," said Biden in remarks from the White House.

People stand in the Cross Hall of the White House and watch as President Joe Biden speaks during an event to celebrate Equal Pay Day and Women's History Month in the East Room, March 15, 2022.
People stand in the Cross Hall of the White House and watch as President Joe Biden speaks during an event to celebrate Equal Pay Day and Women's History Month in the East Room, March 15, 2022.

American women on average still earn 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The disparities are even greater for Black, Native American and Latina women, as well as some Asian women.

Biden's actions do not address the gender wage gap in the private sector. Certain industries have an even larger gender pay gap. In finance and science, on average, men take home at least $30,000 more than women doing the same work every year.

While a growing number of European countries require employers to publish or provide their employees access to gender pay data, the United States does not mandate pay transparency in its private sector. The Obama administration had mandated that large companies report how much they pay workers by race and gender but the Trump administration, under pressure from big business groups, halted the rule in 2017.

"This administration should restart those efforts," said Seema Jayachandran, a professor of economics at Northwestern University who focuses on gender equality.

"While EEO (equal employment opportunity) rules uncover if the work force is gender-imbalanced, they don't reveal if women are in the low-paying jobs and men are in the high-paying jobs, or if in similar jobs, there is a gender pay gap," she told VOA.

The White House did not respond to VOA's question on whether officials plan to reinstate the rule. However, Vasu Reddy, senior policy counsel for economic justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families, told VOA that since September the Biden administration has been analyzing the data that was collected from private companies to show wage gaps by race and gender.

"This is hopefully the first step in getting that rule reinstated," Reddy said.

Low wage, no paid leave

"The existence of low-quality work – i.e., work that is low wage and without access to critical benefits such as paid leave – and the concentration of women, particularly women of color, in this work, is the biggest contributor to the pay gap," said Rose Khattar, a member of the Economic Policy Team at the Center for American Progress.

The situation has worsened during the pandemic. Women, who perform the majority of unpaid family caregiving, must deal with greater challenges managing work and care, with children home from school and older family members losing access to critical care services. In addition, women workers are overrepresented in industries that experienced the pandemic's worst job losses, such as hospitality.

Women's soccer player Alex Morgan joins a conversation virtually with Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and other women's soccer players, during a White House Equal Pay Day summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, March 15, 2022.
Women's soccer player Alex Morgan joins a conversation virtually with Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and other women's soccer players, during a White House Equal Pay Day summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, March 15, 2022.

"Women, particularly women of color, are overrepresented on lower wage jobs, on front-line jobs and jobs that we would have thought of as kind of essential workers throughout the pandemic," Adrienne Schweer told VOA. Schweer, who leads the Bipartisan Policy Center's Paid Family Leave Task Force, said those women have less mobility throughout their careers and less opportunity to increase their wages than their male counterparts.

The Department of Labor on Tuesday issued a report on occupational segregation showing that in 2019, Black women lost $39.3 billion and Hispanic women lost $46.7 billion in wages compared with white men because of differences in industry and occupation.

Some experts argue that mandating paid leave for new parents could help narrow the gender pay gap. The United States is the only developed country that does not have a national paid parental leave program. Only 23 percent of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave .

"One in four women in America are said to go back to work within 10 to 14 days of giving birth, which is astonishing and awful; it is terrible for working women," Schweer said.

Biden's proposed Build Back Better Act sought to provide national paid family leave, but the massive $2 trillion social spending bill is struggling in Congress, failing to gain support not only from Republicans, but also from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.

"It has really fallen off the cliff and it needs a bipartisan pathway," Schweer said. "This president really needs to call on Congress to work together."

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a White House Equal Pay Day Summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, in Washington, March 15, 2022.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a White House Equal Pay Day Summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, in Washington, March 15, 2022.

Also Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female U.S. vice president, hosted an Equal Pay Day virtual summit attended by administration officials, athletes and CEOs.

Closing the gender wage gap is a business issue, not just a moral one, Harris said in her remarks.

"If we are going to continue to grow our economy and to be competitive and lead the world in the 21st century, we simply cannot afford to leave half of our workforce behind," she said. "To build an economy that works for all of us, we must build an economy that works for women."

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