Mind the gender pay gap: Disparity persists, but it's shrinking

President Biden expects to sign an executive order on Equal Pay Day, March 15, to discourage federal contractors from considering a hire’s previous salary. In 2020, women on average earned 83 cents on the dollar compared to men doing the same work. The pay gap in the U.S. is at its smallest ever.

Patrick Semansky/AP
President Joe Biden speaks at the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference, in Washington, March 14, 2022. Mr. Biden will sign an executive order aimed at narrowing the gender pay gap, March 15, 2022.

The White House is marking Equal Pay Day by taking new steps aimed at ending the gender pay gap for federal workers and contractors.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to sign an executive order that encourages the government to consider banning federal contractors from seeking information about job applicants’ prior salary history. And a new Labor Department directive is aimed at strengthening federal contractors’ obligations to audit payrolls to help guard against pay disparities based on gender, race, or ethnicity.

The Office of Personnel Management also is considering a regulation to address the use of prior salary history in hiring and setting compensation for federal workers.

Equal Pay Day is designed to call attention to how much longer women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

Data shows that while the pay gap is at its smallest ever, the coronavirus pandemic has altered women’s labor force participation so that “what we’re seeing is an artificial narrowing,” said Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center.

For instance, women who remained in the labor force during the pandemic and worked full time often had higher earnings than their counterparts who lost low-paying jobs, indicating that 2020 figures cannot be compared with wage gap data from prior years, Ms. Tucker said.

Among other issues, the Mr. Biden administration wants to combat occupational segregation to get women better access to well-paying jobs, which tend to be male-dominated, according to a senior administration official who previewed the administration’s efforts on Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Last October, the administration issued a national gender strategy to advance women’s and girls’ full participation in society.

This year, the administration is looking for new ways to combat pay disparities and drawing attention to high-profile efforts to combat the wage gap, such as the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s $24 million February settlement with U.S. Soccer in a discrimination dispute.

The settlement includes a commitment to equalize pay and bonuses to match the men’s team.

“I think we’re going to look back on this moment and just think, ‘Wow, what an incredible turning point in the history of U.S. Soccer that changed the game and changed the world, really, forever,’” star midfielder Megan Rapinoe said at the time.

Mr. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other administration officials planned to mark Equal Pay Day with a Tuesday afternoon event attended by members of the women’s soccer team.

Ms. Tucker said there is a long way to go to achieve equal pay – especially after the pandemic.

There were in excess of 1.1 million fewer women in the labor force in February 2022 than in February 2020, which means they are neither working nor searching for employment.

“There was a particular shedding among low-paid workers, and what was left was middle- and higher-paid workers who were insulated from the pandemic,” Ms. Tucker said.

In 2020, the average woman who worked full-time all year earned 83 cents on the dollar compared with her male colleague doing the same work, according to the White House. The gap is even bigger for Black and Native American women and Latinas.

The issue impacts women even later in life. A 2020 Brookings Institution study on women’s retirement found Social Security benefits for women are, on average, 80% of those for men.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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