Average Woman Worker Loses Nearly Half a Million to Pay Discrimination

Wednesday, 31 December 2008 13:23 by: Anonymous

Average Woman Worker Loses Nearly Half a Million to Pay Discrimination

    Gadsen, Alabama - Lilly Ledbetter, the longtime Goodyear tire supervisor whose pay discrimination case against her firm went all the way to the Supreme Court, lost $223,776 in lifetime earnings due to 19 years of discrimination at the tire firm's Gadsden, Ala., plant, a new report says.

    As it turns out, Ledbetter, who lost her case before the Supreme Court, was somewhere between average and lucky. Her earnings loss was half the national average of lifetime earnings losses, $434,000 per woman, that female workers suffer compared to male counterparts in the same jobs.

    But Ledbetter's Goodyear career covered only half of the gentle gray-haired grandmother's working life. Take those 19 years and double them, and Lilly Ledbetter is a typical female worker in the U.S., the report says.

    At least in Alabama, she wasn't in the state where woman worker are worst off. Nor, as a company supervisor, was Ledbetter the worst off among all female workers, analysis of federal data shows.

    In Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap, Jessica Arons of the Center for American Progress, a liberal and pro-worker think tank, showed lifetime earnings of average female workers trailed those of their male counterparts by hundreds of thousands of dollars. In one profession, the law, the gap is $1.48 million.

    And the pay gap understates the lifetime earnings chasm, Arons noted. Quoting Ledbetter, Arons pointed out the lifetime gap not only affects a woman's pay but her pension levels and her Social Security earnings base. All are lower.

    Arons explained the huge lifetime losses occur because the typical female worker, after adjusting for other factors, earns 78 cents for every dollar a male worker doing the same job earns. Take that and multiply it by a woman's working career, and compound the gap every year, and you get differences ranging from $270,000 over 42 years (ages 24-65) in Vermont to almost three times as much ($728,000) in Wyoming.

    The greatest difference between men and women workers was in legal services. That's because while 51% of the legal profession is female, the women start out in lower pay brackets and are concentrated in the lower-paying areas of the legal world. The men are the high-paid law firm partners, the women are lower-paid legal aides.

    The smallest lifetime gap was among "installation, maintenance and repair workers," where the difference was only $84,000 over a working woman's lifetime. But even then, there was a problem, Arons noted: The profession is only 4% female.

    "It should be hard to have any gap when virtually no women work in a given field. The fact that a wage gap exists at all, despite being the smallest gap, suggests pay equity remains a large problem in that sector. Moreover, it is evident additional effort is needed to better integrate the entire workforce," she said.

    "And even an $84,000 gap, averaging out to a shortfall of $2,000 a year, can be a large hit to a family at the lower end of the economic spectrum," Arons noted. As for Ledbetter, the earnings gap in Alabama was $445,000 over a woman's working career. And for an average supervisor nationwide, the male-female lifetime gap was $635,000.

    Arons pointed out the lifetime earnings gap has a huge impact on women, men and families. "Lower wages for women hurt men and society as well. American men work the longest hours in the industrialized world and have the smallest amount of leisure time, often so that their wives can increase the time they spend on family caregiving duties or in order to make up for their wives' lower wages.

    "Society, moreover, loses out on additional tax revenue from women while having to increase spending on safety net programs for women who are not paid a living wage," she wrote.

    Arons also suggested six measures to help close the lifetime earnings gap. Her recommendations included labor-backed legislation to reverse the Supreme Court ruling against Ledbetter and other female workers, and the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's top legislative goal in the next Congress.

    "This bill would make it easier for employees to form unions, establish stronger penalties for employers who interfere with the right of workers to form a union, and provide mediation and arbitration when necessary to ensure employers bargain with new unions over a first contract in good faith. Union membership increases women's weekly earnings by 38.2% and men's by 26.0%. Women of color and low-wage earners are helped even more by unionization," Arons wrote of the workers' rights bill.

    Though Arons did not say so, the pay gap between male and female union wor-kers is smaller than the overall yearly pay gap. The most recent data on median weekly earnings, in 2007, show all working women's median weekly wages were 80 cents for every dollar a man earned. Union women's wages were 87 cents per dollar.

    Ledbetter knows about that, too. As a supervisor, not covered by labor law, she suffered the pay discrimination. At one congressional hearing on legislation -- named for her -- to overturn the court's ruling and to let woman workers sue firms for sexual pay discrimination, she told Press Associates Union News Service she believes rank-and-file female workers at Gadsden suffer little pay discrimination. Why? They're covered by Goodyear's union contract, with the Steel Workers.

Last modified on Wednesday, 31 December 2008 15:35