Senator Kamala Harris joined a number of celebrities on social media to celebrate the faux holiday of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. That’s not helping anyone.
Instead of telling black women that their educational and career decisions impact their earnings, those pushing Equal Pay Day peddled a victimization narrative and put forward leftist proposals that will backfire on black women.
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day represents the day in 2019 when black women’s earnings match white men’s earnings from 2018.
“A Wrinkle in Time” film producer Ava DuVernay explained it this way:
“Today is #BlackWomensEqualPayDay which highlights the hard fact that Black Women in America have to work 599 days to make what white men get in 365 days…”
According to the National Women’s Law Center, black women working full-time earned 61 percent of what white men working full-time earned. This 39-cent pay gap is nearly double the overall 20-cent gender pay gap. We are led to believe that the pay difference is because of systemic racism, racial bias, occupational segregation, and other unfair barriers.
Serena Williams wants us to join her “in standing with Black women to fight for equality in the workplace today–and always.”
Williams is assuming that black women do not have equality in the workplace.
Let’s look more deeply at the data. When we compare black women’s earnings to black men’s earnings we find a much smaller pay gap of 82.4 percent in 2014. That’s better than the pay gap for white (non-Hispanic) and Asian women.
But the real problem with all of these “wage gaps” is that they are simple comparisons of averages — average weekly earnings in full-time jobs for men and women.
Raw wage gaps do not tell the whole story. Different choices that women and men make in the workplace, which have nothing to do with discrimination, play an important role in determining how much someone earns.
In fact, almost a third of the overall pay gap is due to men working more hours than women. Full-time men work 8.3 hours each day compared to 7.8 hours worked by full-time women. Also, 88 percent of men work full time compared to just 75 percent of women.
Seniority, education, experience, job title, industry, majors, the dangerousness of jobs, and time out of the workforce are all factors that come into play.
When controlling for such factors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the pay gap shrinks to just a few cents. Even that they can’t say for certain is due to gender discrimination.
Job title, education, and vocation are especially important factors for black women.
As a group, black women are over-represented in service jobs, the lowest-paying occupational groups. Nearly ten percent of black women are nursing, psychiatric, home health, and personal care aides alone. Meanwhile, they are under-represented in high-paying positions.
Education can boost a black woman’s earnings, but her major matters. If she chooses a major that leads to a lower-paying career, additional degrees will not necessarily add more zeros to her paycheck.
A 2016 Georgetown University study found that black students were highly represented in majors associated with serving the community — human services and community organization (20 percent) and social work (19 percent) — but which tend to be low-paying.
Even among health majors, black students were clustered in the lowest-earning major of health and medical administrative services (21 percent), compared to only 6 percent who were in the higher-earning major of pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and administration.
I wonder how many black students would choose pharmacy as a major over social work if they knew it carried a median salary of $80,000 a year compared to just $40,000 a year?
Even with that knowledge, there are girls who would choose to be social workers because they value helping kids, families, and their communities. That’s a noble profession and a fine decision, but one that pays less.
I don’t deny that racism and gender discrimination exist. They should not be tolerated, but brought to light and prosecuted. However, personal choices and personal responsibility play far greater roles in our career trajectories and earnings potential.
Senator Kamala Harris should know this but still promised in her tweet yesterday that, “When I am President we won’t get mad, we’ll get pay equity” to peddle her pay equity proposal. If lawmakers could really whisk away these pay differences with the strike of a pen, then why didn’t President Obama do it?
Unfortunately, Senator Harris’s plan wouldn’t just fail to close the wage gap, it would backfire on all women in the workplace by leading to fewer opportunities and less flexibility.
Harris would force private companies with 100 employees or more to prove that they have no gender pay gaps or be fined 1 percent of their profits for every 1 percent difference in pay.
Employers would likely respond in ways that minimize their liability, such as not hiring as many women or removing flexible arrangements, which are difficult to capture in raw pay numbers. This is the wrong way to try to close the wage gap.
Far better would be to educate people about the real cause of the wage gap and how the choices we make impact our earning potential. Black women are not victims and don’t need to be treated as though we are.
When we are empowered with facts and knowledge we can make the right decisions for our future. That should be the message from Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.