The network “Good4Utah” recently covered an interesting advocacy experiment. The call for advocacy occurred at Jordan high school in Sandy, Utah where the Young Democrats club sold cookies at the price of 77 cents for women and 1 dollar for men in order to raise awareness on the issue of gender pay inequality. The story itself was reported by two older white men who within racial/gender-based pay comparisons, being a white male would be part of the top percentile. Recent pay comparisons from the U.S. Current Population Survey show that in 2010 in the United States for every 1 dollar a white man earns a white women earns 80.5 cents (“The Wage Gap, by Gender and Race.”). Furthermore, when the intersecting category of race accompanies gender* these statistics show that black men earn 74.5 cents, Hispanic men 65.9 cents, , black women 69.6 cents and Hispanic women 59.8 cents in the United States to a white man’s dollar. This shows that there is not a wage gap, but rather many wage gaps. A look at these wage gap(s) statistic raises questions in regards to pay inequality not only for the Young Democrats of that Utah high school, but for myself as well. It is perhaps easy to mention what should determine a worker’s compensation such as, experience, knowledge, skills etc. What is not easy, is to examine the actual intersecting features and structures that determine a worker’s pay in 21st– century North America. How do the intersecting features of racism, sexism, cissexism, ableism and more really influence pay equality, or rather INequality? A look at examples of the structures that buttress pay inequality as well as discrimination that leads to pay inequality may shed more light on the issue.
The structures that support the various wage gaps among groups include the division of the labour market. In North America labour is quite gender-segregated as social structures/constructs segregate occupations into “men’s work” and “women’s work”. Comments made under this Good4Utah piece show that many in society believe that there are “male skills” and “female skills”. For example, Aaron Webb commented, “. . . some jobs require the male strength and aptitude towards not noticing pain and so forth, most women would freak if they cut their finger off, a guy would probably duct tape it and work the rest of the day before leaving work. . .”. While interviews at Jordan high school showed that not everyone thinks that men and women are genetically predisposed towards different skill sets, it is clear that a large portion of society does. This is evident in the pattern of pay stagflation within fields that are dominated by women (e.g. nurse wages, teaching wages, childcare wages) versus those that are dominated by men (e.g. managers (not retail sales, construction laborers, janitors) (Judy Aulette 194). As well as this pattern of gender-based pay stagflation, patterns of what North-American labour markets hold to be of value arise in the area of emotional labour and invisible labour. Emotional labour (face-to-face/voice-to-contact) components involved in certain female dominated fields (e.g. flight attendant, secretary, etc.) and invisible labour (labour associated with maternal tasks e.g. direct child care, laundry, cooking, etc.) receive no/less monetary compensation which communicates that they are of a lesser value than other labour, that is if they are of any value at all. Moreover, these areas of labour in addition to having lower wage rates are often structured to give less benefits to the workers, for example domestic and clothing factory work are often structured to be part-time at very low wages which disproportionally effects women, and immigrant and lower-wage-class women at that (Aulette 502). These androcentric social structures that intersect with categories of class, race, and more facilitate and support the wage gaps.
In addition to labour structures that support pay inequality indirect and direct discrimination also facilitates wage gaps. Discrimination that stems from racism, cissexism, ableism and sexism often impacts the hiring and wage patterns of varying groups. For example, a study showed that trans women “respondents experienced discrimination in hiring at 55%, compared to 40% of [trans men] respondents. Gender non-conforming respondents experienced this form of discrimination at 32%” (Sohpia Kerby). Thus direct discrimination that stems from systems of oppression such as transphobia impact workers’ labour rights and income. In addition even when “controlling for education, race, occupation, and years of work experience . . . (t)he Williams Institute finds that gay and bisexual men earn 10 percent to 32 percent less than similarly qualified heterosexual men, in a meta-analysis of 12 studies examining earnings and sexual orientation in the United States.” (Crosby Burns). Furthermore race and homophobia intersect in data that shows the average Latina lesbian couple earns $3,000 less than Latino opposite-sex couples (Sohpia Kerby). Indirect discrimination where workers’ are not hired because they’re “just not the right fit” as well as direct discrimination clearly has an impact on labour patterns and the livelihoods of many varying groups.
All in all, it can be seen that the intersecting features of oppression that litter labour structures as well as labour discrimination practices have a large impact on society. These systematic intersecting features arguably make many groups in society more vulnerable. For example, social security benefits are tied to income and as well the gender-segregation of the labour market is part the foundation of the feminization of poverty. In addition, just viewing portions of the article as well as comments made under the article show the social effects of wage gaps. For example comments made by fruitbot, “ (m)en are often taught basic construction skills early by their dads and most women are not.” highlight that wage gaps and representation in different labour markets affects the way we socialize our children. Wage gaps form a part of the socialization process that transparently displays that some people by nature of their personal characteristics are literally worth less than others and is a multi-tiered problem that I’m glad the Young Democrats group at the Utah high school began to address.
*gender in these statistics is limited to cisgender individuals
Aulette, Judy Root., Judith G. Wittner, and Kristin Blakely. Gendered Worlds. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Burns, Crosby. “The Gay and Transgender Wage Gap.” Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
Kerby, Sohpia. “How Pay Inequity Hurts Women of Color.” Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress, 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
“The Wage Gap, by Gender and Race.” Infoplease. Infoplease, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.