POLITICS

Obama Tried, But The Gender Pay Gap Hasn't Budged Since '07

A new report on incomes offered lots to celebrate, but women had less reason to cheer.
New data released Tuesday showed we haven't made much progress on pay equality in the last few years.
New data released Tuesday showed we haven't made much progress on pay equality in the last few years.

The gender pay gap isn’t moving.

Women working full time earned just 80 percent of what men made in 2015, according to new income data released by the U.S. Census on Tuesday.

That’s an increase of about 1 percentage point since 2014, but the Census said the rise is not statistically significant. The pay gap has hovered at around 79 percent since 2007.

There was a lot in the data to celebrate: Median incomes rose 5.2 percent from the previous year to $56,000, the first increase since the Great Recession. The poverty rate declined, and the number of Americans going without health insurance fell.

Because of this good news, many hailed the report as a nice parting victory for the Obama administration.

President Barack Obama has been a big advocate for closing the pay gap ― the first piece of legislation he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which strengthened equal pay laws. He’s also banned pay discrimination among federal contractors and is asking companies to report more pay data. 

Still, he’s been stymied by Congress, which has failed to pass other bills ― floated by both Republicans and Democrats ― on equal pay.

And, of course, the bigger issue is that equal pay legislation and executive orders alone won’t get the U.S. to equality.

There are structural issues ― lack of federal paid leave for parents or quality child care ― that can force women out of the workforce or cause them to ratchet back their career ambitions.

There are also other subtle cultural forces at play. Unconscious bias that begins before birth funnels girls and boys into different career tracks, which often mean women take on different majors in college and end up in lower-paying careers.

Bias also means that majority-female careers are often undervalued, some research has shown.

It should be noted that the gap is even wider for black women and Latinas. The new data released Tuesday also shows that women are more likely than men to live in poverty ― and raise children in poverty. Closing the pay gap would go a long way in alleviating that problem.

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