What the New Census Income and Poverty Data Say about Gender Equality

By Angela Pavao, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On September 16, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report examining income and poverty data from 2013 and how the two indicators have changed, overall and across demographics, over recent years. Despite some positive changes, like the overall decline in poverty rates, the report highlighted a continued and severe gender disparity, examined more thoroughly last week by AAUW and the National Women’s Law Center.

By the Numbers: A Look at the Gender Pay Gap by the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Achieving income equity among genders has never been so critical, yet 2013 saw a disappointing lack of movement in the gender pay gap. In 2013, 40 percent of American households considered a female their primary source of income, yet new census data reveal that working women receive, on average, just 78 cents compared to every dollar a male earns. When the data compare Black and Latina women with their White male counterparts, the wage gap widens significantly – to 64 cents and 54 cents, respectively. These figures demonstrate the pervasiveness of both gender and racial inequality in our economy and highlight the interconnectedness of several civil rights issues. It is important to note that the 0.78 ratio does not take into account factors like industry, education, and experience. That said, a 2012 study by AAUW found “an unexplainable 7 percent pay gap,” even when other factors were accounted for. This suggests two problems: gender discrimination and a system that does not encourage women to aspire to the same educational attainment and higher-paying industries as men.

These figures were released in the wake of every Senate Republican – and one Independent – voting on September 15 to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have strengthened the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and prohibited employer retaliation against employees who discuss or disclose their salaries. Two weeks earlier on Labor Day, the Republican National Committee tweeted an image declaring that “All Republicans support equal pay.”

NWLC Analysis of 2013 Census Poverty Data by the National Women’s Law Center

The data also show that women continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty. In 2013, the percentage of women below the poverty line remained at a two-decade peak of 14.5 percent, compared to only 11 percent of men. More startling: that 11 percent figure is still lower than the record low poverty rate for women, which was 11.5 percent in 2000. The data also reveal higher poverty rates among women who were heads of their family, Black women, Hispanic women, and senior women living alone. Despite the fact that only 40 percent of households are headed by women, these households account for 58.8 percent of all children living in poverty.

When considered alongside AAUW’s income breakdown, the cyclical nature of the problem becomes clearer: lower wages inherently produce higher rates of poverty, which in turn make it much more difficult for women to reach their full, economic potential. It is this systemic inequality that we must counter through comprehensive legislation designed to protect workers and promote equal pay for equal work. Every individual, regardless of gender, deserves a society that rewards their hard work fairly.