It's no secret that wage gaps exist between genders and races. Closing that gap seems to have stalled since the 1980s. Women earn 79 cents to every dollar earned by men, on average. And for black and Hispanic women it is even lower at 64 and 55 cents.
Why do these wage disparities still exist and what can be done about them? Also, if we know they exist, how come there aren't more class action lawsuits for wage discrimination?
The justification for wage disparity
Not all wage gaps are a result of discrimination. Some are legitimate, based on seniority, years of experience, education and experience with a competitor. But if those disparities in salary cannot be explained by those factors, they may be violations of equal pay laws - even if they are unintentional.
Unfortunately, systemic wage gaps by gender or race often go undetected. Workers in our culture do not talk about their salaries or what compensation they have been offered for new jobs. Employers don't share this information because they have business reasons for keeping it confidential. And human resources professionals may not even know about pay disparities either, as many don't evaluate jobs based on race or gender. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for employee groups to file class action lawsuits against their employers.
What can be done to close the wage gap?
The first federal laws to provide wage protections were The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Wage discrimination has become less overt since then.
Federal and state governments, civil rights groups, pay experts and other activists have made considerable efforts to develop tools to address the pay gap. The following are some of the proposed actions:
- Annual pay data reporting
- Bans on asking applicants for salary history
- New pay transparency rules
- Aggressive state and international equal pay laws