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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

A costly gender gap: Texas women working full time earn $12,000 less than men annually

Women of color are overrepresented in occupations with the lowest median wages, such as child care, laundry service and cleaning.

March 14 is Equal Pay Day, highlighting the gap between men’s and women’s earnings. Nationally, women average $0.77 for every $1 white men earn.

Every year, advocates mark Equal Pay Day to draw attention to the nation’s persistent gender-based pay disparities. The day is determined by how many days into a new year the average American woman must work in order to earn what the average American man earned the previous year.

Texas women earn an average of $12,475 per year less than white Texas men.

But as in the rest of the nation, the size of the gender wage gap varies widely by race.

Black women in Texas average almost $27,000 less than white men each year, and Asian American women earn about $21,000 less. For Native American Texans, the gap is nearly $34,000. The gap is largest for Texas Latinas, at almost $36,000.

A new report from the National Partnership for Women and Families digs into some of the causes of these inequities.

An economic divide

The biggest driver, according to the report, is “occupational segregation.” The term points to the historical and structural factors that effectively sort women and men toward different fields, driving inequities.

Women are often excluded or steered away from the higher-paying jobs in fields dominated by men. Of the 20 highest-paid jobs, women make up less than 30% of the workforce. And even in the high-paying jobs where women are better represented, like lawyers and nurse anesthetists, it’s disproportionately white women in the jobs.

Meanwhile, women account for nearly two-thirds of the workforce in the 20 occupations with the lowest median wages. Women of color are overrepresented in many of these jobs like child care, laundry service and cleaning.

“We as a society really undervalue the kinds of job where women are concentrated in. And those are often really essential jobs like child care, or home health aides,” Mason said.

The lowest-paying jobs are also the least likely to offer basic benefits like paid family and medical leave or paid sick days. That further curbs wages because women still do far more unpaid family caregiving — for children, or elderly relatives — than men.

Disability is also a major determinant of wages, the report points out. Women with disabilities who work full time face high levels of occupational segregation, inadequate workplace accommodations and discrimination, and earn significantly less than nondisabled men because of it.

Similar work, different pay

Occupational segregation doesn’t fully account for the yawning gender wage gap.

Even when they do the same work, research shows women tend to be paid less than their male peers, Mason said. Women earn more college degrees than men, but continue to earn less.

She points to research concluding that only about 62% of the gender wage gap can be explained by variables like education and experience levels, occupational segregation and rates of unionization.

“There’s still 38% of the wage gap that’s not explained by any of those factors, and that’s where we probably see the discrimination and harassment and those kinds of things coming in,” she said.

Women face higher levels of harassment and discrimination, especially in male-dominated fields. They’re more likely to face harassment that undermines success, and more likely to be passed over for training opportunities, promotions and raises than their male peers.

“It can be fraught for women to ask for a raise, for example, because their boss may have stereotypes about who is supposed to be the type of person who stands up and asks for a raise,” Mason said.

A manager may react differently to a white man advocating for his career than a woman of color.

Systemic solutions

Closing gender and racial wage gaps will require systemic solutions from employers and governments, Mason said.

“What we really want to see is solutions that, instead of putting the onus on the woman to do a better job negotiation for herself, we know there are solutions like having salary transparency so people know what their coworkers are being paid, having clear standards for how salaries are set, having salary ranges posted in job ads,” Mason said.

The report also points to major policy changes that can be enacted by state and federal lawmakers if they want to shrink the wage gaps.

These include policies that improve workplace pay and benefits, including increasing the minimum wage, mandatory paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave. Pro-union policies that empower workers would help, Mason said, because unionized industries tend to be more equitable.

The report calls for tougher laws on sex-based wage discrimination, and more resources to enforce existing civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.

Three major bills passed during the Biden Administration – the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act — present unusual opportunities, Mason said, to center gender and racial equity in training programs for high-skill jobs, and in distributing the funding.

“At the end of the day, the policy solution we’re suggesting here is not to push white men out of the jobs or cut their pay. We’re talking about policies that will help everybody. We’re talking about putting women of color at the center for how we design [policy] so that it helps everybody,” she said.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.