LA County wage gap points to hiring biases, glass ceilings and ‘gendered’ jobs

Gaps widen for women of color

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Job seekers wait in line to attend employment fair. (Denae Ayala/Community News)

Vanessa Wyatt, Community News Editor

Women in America have grown up hearing that they earn 70 cents to every dollar a man earns.

The question is, what is the gap now and how do wages stack up in Los Angeles?

A UT Community News analysis of 2019 median earnings data from the U.S. Census Bureau for Los Angeles County found:

  • When it comes to all wages for those 16 years and older, including those of temporary and part-time workers, women made 22% less than men.
  • For full-time, year-round workers, women’s average earnings were 18% less than men’s. In other words, women earned 82 cents for every dollar a man earned.
  • Twice the number of men than women earned $100,000 or more while working year-round, full-time jobs.
  • Finally, for those 25 years and older with a graduate or professional degree, women’s median earnings were $72,144 — or 25% less than $97,233 for men.

What’s more, recent reports indicate that women have been severely impacted by job losses related to the pandemic.

Experts say the gender pay gap can be blamed on a number of factors, including “gendered” jobs and biases in hiring practices, and they noted that women of color are often disproportionately affected.

Earnings in 2019 for full-time, year-round workers in Los Angeles County

Source: Data analysis by Vanessa Wyatt using U.S. Census Bureau data.

Hiring practices and time in the workforce

Hiring practices definitely factor in, says Renee Lemus, a professor of gender studies at Cal State LA. For example, employers who interview someone who is pregnant realize that person is more likely to go on maternity leave soon.

Women generally spend less time in the workforce than men because of pregnancy and time spent child-rearing, Lemus added. Also, mothers are more likely to take time off of work to care for sick children.

Echoing that thought, one’s experience, or “time in the job, tends to positively affect pay. Women, for numerous reasons, on average accumulate less time in the job than men do,” said Steve McGuire, professor of management at Cal State LA. 

To many employers, “‘mother work’ doesn’t really count” as labor, which can lead women to be passed up for jobs and promotions, Lemus said. “If I could put motherhood and all the skills that I have from being a mother on my resume, I’d be amazing, right?”

Gendered jobs

Differences in the types of jobs that men and women generally work in still exist, which can also result in wage disparities.

“The differences in pay is partly explained by industry. Men and women tend to work in different industries. For example, school teachers, home health workers, and nurses are mostly women, while truck drivers and police officers are mostly men. Some industries pay less well than others. Education, for example, tends to pay less than other industries and is female-dominated,” McGuire said. “Within education, there probably are not major differences in pay between men and women.”

The difference in pay based on job type can point to a problem with how different jobs are valued in society, said Alejandra Marchevsky, director and professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Cal State LA.

We continue to live in a society where feminized jobs – typically those that involve care-work or are seen as an extension of women’s domestic responsibilities (like sewing or canning food, for instance) – are devalued. These jobs pay less, offer irregular or part-time hours, and are less likely to be unionized and regulated by the government for labor law violations,” Marchevsky wrote in an email.

Glass ceiling 

Wage differences increased among higher income brackets, according to the data analysis.

“With regard to the higher wage gap in upper level salaried positions, I would bring in the discussion of the glass ceiling and glass elevator. The glass ceiling refers to the invisible barriers and biases that keep women from being promoted in their fields,” said Professor Dionne Espinoza of Cal State LA’s women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

The ceiling can also partly be attributed to “women’s…reluctance to negotiate for a higher pay” and the fact that laws aimed at ensuring equal pay have not been that effective, said Veena P. Prabhu, a business professor in the Department of Management at Cal State LA.

“The Equal Pay Act, which focuses on gender-based wage discrimination is anything but stringent in its implementation. It was passed in 1963 and almost 60 years later, we have still not achieved that gender balance. The amendment to the Civil Rights Act in 1990 included forming the Glass Ceiling Commission predominantly to address this issue — that too failed,” she said.

Race, ethnicity and immigration status

The Census data examined did not include wages in the county broken out by race or ethnicity but that is a key issue, according to Marchevsky.

Given the diversity of L.A. County’s workforce, we must interpret the earnings data through an intersectional lens that takes into account the fact that women of color workers are facing multiple, compounding sources of discrimination and exploitation: gender, race, ethnicity, and immigration status,” Marchevsky said.

Espinoza echoed that sentiment: “Nationally, there is data showing that white women are paid less than white men but are paid more than Black women, Latinas, and American Indian women.”

For instance, while women in California had the “eighth smallest wage gap” — at just 16 cents compared to men — in 2014, Latinas in the state had the worst wage gap nationwide at 56 cents, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

“The lower status and wages assigned to women of color workers is key to profitability in our economy, and also reinforces a society where power and wealth are stratified by gender, race, and nationality,” Marchevskey said, adding that immigration status can also lead to “wage theft.”