But Black and Hispanic women still face wide wage gaps

Washington, DC—In advance of International Women’s Day 2017 on March 8, a new fact sheet by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that median weekly earnings* for women increased by $14 dollars (or 1.9 percent) in 2016, compared with an increase of $9 (or 1.0 percent) for men. Men still earn significantly more than women—women’s median weekly earnings for full-time work were $749 in 2016, compared with $915 for men—but because women’s earnings grew more, the weekly gender earnings ratio increased to 81.9 percent in 2016 from 81.1 percent in 2015.

Progress on closing the weekly gender wage gap has slowed in the last decade. In the past ten years (2007 to 2016), the weekly gender wage gap narrowed by just 1.7 percentage points, compared with 6.3 percentage points in the previous ten years (1997 to 2006), and with 5.2 percentage points in the ten years prior to that (1987 to 1996).

Median weekly earnings increased significantly for women of all major race/ethnic groups except for Asian women (whose earnings gains were small). Yet, this increase has not made a significant dent in large earnings disparities: Black women’s weekly earnings are only 68 percent of White men’s, and the median weekly earnings of Hispanic women—just 62 percent of White men’s—are so low that they would qualify a family of four for food stamps benefits.

“With several years of stagnant wages, last year’s wage growth in weekly earnings for women nearly across the board is very welcome,” said IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “But progress has been glacially slow for so long. We need to continue the investment in policies that can close the wage gap, especially for women of color, such as access to good jobs, child care, and paid leave, along with reduced discrimination.”

Tuesday, March 7, is Asian American and Pacific Islander Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day symbolizing how far into the year that Asian women must work to earn what White men earned in the previous year. While Asian women have the highest median weekly earnings among women and earn 95.8 percent of what White men earn, they still earn just 78.4 percent of what Asian men earn. Asian women also saw the smallest increase in real weekly earnings (1.6 percent increase) and were the only group of women whose earnings did not see a statistically significant increase in 2016.

Previous IWPR analysis of the economic impact of equal pay on the U.S. economy finds that the gender wage gap cost U.S. women—who are also consumers, savers, and business owners—$482 billion in 2014. The same analysis found that, if women were paid the same as comparable men—those who are of the same age, have the same level of education, work the same number of hours, and have the same urban/rural status—the poverty rate for working women would be cut by more than half, from 8.2 percent to 4.0 percent.

The weekly gender earnings ratio is one measure of the gender wage gap. The more commonly cited ratio compares women’s and men’s median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers, which was 79.6 percent in 2015. Progress on closing the annual wage gap has also slowed in recent years. If current trends continue, women will not see equal pay until 2059. Women of color will have to wait much longer: Black women will not see pay equity until 2124, while Hispanic women must wait 231 more years until 2248.

“Half of families with young children in America today have a breadwinner mother,” said Dr. Hartmann. “American families and the economy as a whole cannot afford to wait decades, even centuries, for equal pay. Policymakers and businesses must tackle the undervaluation of women’s work, increase employment opportunities, and pay women fairly in order to see meaningful growth in the economy.”

*The data in this fact sheet are based on the Current Population Survey, a government household survey designed to track employment and earnings. The weekly gender earnings ratio tends to be slightly higher than the annual ratio, as it excludes the self-employed and earnings from annual bonuses and includes full-time workers who work only part of the year. Both the weekly and annual earnings ratios are for full-time workers only; if part-time and part-year workers were included, the ratios of women’s to men’s earnings would be even lower, as women are more likely than men to work reduced schedules, often in order to manage unpaid childrearing and other caregiving work.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences.