White Men Reign Supreme Atop Pay Scale

No surprises here, but white males continue to earn considerably more money than women in general and women of color in particular. A new report presented to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment outlines strategies to close the pay gap and pursue pay equity standards as a poverty-reduction strategy. White men still rule when it comes to getting paid.

Women and people of color still earn considerably less on average than white men, finds a new report by the Colorado Pay Equity Commission.

In 2006, Colorado women earned an average of 79 cents for every dollar made by a Colorado man. Nationwide, women working full-time made about 81 cents to every dollar earned by a man.

The pay gap between women of color and white men is even more dramatic. The average African-American full-time female worker in Colorado earned just 61 percent of the earnings of the average white man in 2006. Comparable Hispanic women in the state earned just 52 percent of the average earnings for a white male.

“Occupational segregation is a huge part of this picture in that men tend to be trained for and encouraged to go into higher paying professions than women,” said Elizabeth Feder, health policy analyst at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy and member of the Pay Equity Commission.

“However, it is also true that within any given profession, men tend to make more than women. Even when women become lawyers, doctors and engineers, there is still a pay gap.”

The reasons for this are many, Feder says, but part of the explanation involves understanding the cultural context that engenders the pay gap. It’s not just that women are encouraged by society to be caregivers while men are pushed to be go-getters, but in specific work cultures, male qualities are often overvalued, propelling more men to promotions and high-profile assignments than women.

“People will say that the pay gap results because women take more time off work than men or that they don’t seek the promotions that men do,” Feder said. “But the differences we see between men and women are not merely a result of the choices that individuals make. It is important to say that these things are happening in a broad social context.”

Other factors that influence the pay gap between white men and pretty much everyone else include level of educational attainment, marital and family status, negotiation practices, previous work experience, union membership and discrimination. 

The Colorado Pay Equity Commission is a group of 12 representatives with diverse experience in business, labor, health, law and consumer advocacy. The commission was established by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment at the request of the governor following the creating of Pay Equity Day by the state Legislature.

The commission worked together for six months and this week presented its report, including several recommendations to close the pay gap, to Donald Mares, executive director of the Department of Labor and Employment.

Eliminating the pay gap is critical, finds the commission, not just for the individuals and families who are earning less, but for the wider community. Researchers estimated the effect of closing the pay gap by analyzing the earnings of single female heads-of-household who work full-time, year-round. The study found that closing the pay gap could potentially help 86 percent of women earning below the federal poverty level to earn above it. Tens of thousands of children would be removed from the state’s CHP+ health plan and Medicaid program with an annual savings to the state of more than $10 million.

“Our public policy debate is so centered on welfare – what the eligibility requirements should be and how we move people off welfare and into work. But we pay little attention to the wages women are earning when they come off welfare,” Feder said. 

“Shifting our focus to pay equity would be a simpler and more cost-effective way of reducing poverty.”

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