Higher Minimum Wage to Combat Gap?
- By Gail Cooper and Isabel Jenkins -
Passed in 1965, the Equal Pay Act was lauded as a victory in the fight to end gender-based pay discrimination in the US. Fast-forward to 2014, women of all backgrounds still make less a week than men, finds a study by American Association of University Women. Both Latinas and African American women make 11 percent less their male counterparts, while the gap for White women (22 percent) and Asian women (21) was slightly higher. Although many factors contribute, the root of the wage gap may lie in the way American society views gender, families and industry.
Almost two-thirds of minimum wage workers in America are women, reports the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). The living wage for a family of four in the United States varies from state to state, ranging from about $17 to $22 an hour. Considering the federal minimum wage has come to a halt at $7.25, it is no surprise that 5.5 million women live in near poverty. Even in the most common occupations for women, men still make more. Female secretaries, despite being in the top occupation for women since the 1950s, make 82.8 percent of their male peers’ weekly wages. Female cashiers, who fill the second most common profession for women, make 92 percent of what male cashiers do.
A new study published in the American Sociological Review credits 10 percent of the gender wage gap to what it calls “overwork,” or when workers regularly put in 50+ hour work weeks. In 2007, 17 percent of non-military working men overworked, while only 7 percent of their female colleagues did. However, a study published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that U.S. women put in 4 additional hours of work at home a day, compared to 2.7 hours for men. This “chore gap” of unpaid work, including household chores, caregiving and childcare, influences how many hours a day women have available for paid work. Compared to Norway and New Zealand, where men work more hours overall than women, the U.S. has room to move forward.
Many believe that hope lies in a higher minimum wage, while critics fear that business would compensate for higher wages with higher prices. Concerns over Seattle’s minimum wage hike foreshadow the issues with a federal increase. Low-wage tipped workers worry that the $15/hour minimum wage will influence costumers to tip less. Some restaurants have promised to increase menu prices by 25 percent to compensate for higher wages, or require servers to share more of their tips with back-of-the-house staff. Other local businesses have tacked on a “living wage” tax to ensure that they do not lose any profits. If minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour, 27.8 million low-wage workers nationwide would move out or further away from poverty, the NWLC study linked above finds. A higher minimum wage would thus jumpstart the economy, decrease turnover rates, and encourage employers to invest in their employees.
For more information about Equal Pay, read our Everything You Need to Know About the Equal Pay Act primer.