Unequal Pay

As an executive assistant, Jane Ward works in one of several field where women earn just as much as men. (Photo by Mary Hanlon)

As an executive assistant, Jane Ward works in one of several field where women earn just as much as men. (Photo by Mary Hanlon)

Although opportunities in education and employment are open to women, African Americans, Latinos and Asians far more often than they were decades ago, wide gaps in pay along racial and gender lines remain in Chicago.

According to a Chicago Reporter analysis of 2000 Census data, among year-round, full-time workers, whites in Chicago averaged $15,000 to $25,000 more in earnings than Asians, African Americans and Latinos. And, while whites more often worked in professional or high-paying jobs, the gaps existed even when individuals worked the same jobs or had the same education.

Among full-time, year-round workers living in Chicago in 2000, whites averaged nearly $52,000 a year, while Asians averaged about $37,000; African Americans $33,500; and Latinos about $27,250.

Similar gaps were found along gender lines; women averaged about $8,000 less in earnings than men, according to the Reporter’s analysis. There were also gaps in pay between men and women in the same jobs, and between men and women with equal education.

“The discrimination and unequal pay run the gamut. Lawyers, professors, low-wage workers all get the brunt of it,” said Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed Inc., a Chicago-based nonprofit that advocates for economic equity for women.

The Reporter’s analysis included year-round, full-time workers as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau: all workers ages 16 and older, who worked at least 35 hours a week for 50 or more weeks. It was based on responses to the census long-form questionnaire, which was distributed to 1 in 6 households across the country in 2000. It is the most recent data available for Chicago showing earnings by occupation, gender and race.

While the gap in pay between men and women in Chicago has remained since 2000, there is some evidence that it might be narrowing. Recently released census estimates reveal that, among year-round, full-time workers in Chicago, women had a median income of $34,428 in 2004, compared with $37,456 for men—a difference of $3,028, about half the size of the gap that existed in 1999.

At every level of education, from individuals without high school diplomas to those with professional degrees, men earned 20 percent to 35 percent more than their female counterparts in 1999.

However, there were several jobs where women earned more than men. Female secretaries and administrative assistants averaged slightly more than their male counterparts.

With nearly 26,000 workers, secretaries and administrative assistants made up the city’s largest employment category—and women dominated the profession, accounting for nearly 94 percent of the jobs. Nurses, nursing aides and community service managers were also among the largest groups of workers where women earned more than men.

Jane Ward, an executive assistant for a business consulting firm, believes she’s getting a fair chance at increasing her salary. As a mother and divorcee, however, she can attest to the inequities women face in the workplace as they try to balance work and family. “There’s so many pushes and pulls, and the responsibility is basically left to the woman. It’s very difficult,” she said.

Ward believes women trying to juggle family and a career are perceived by others to not take their jobs as seriously. And that perception might cause some women to be passed over for promotions, she said.

Josephs said employers might also question how long working mothers will remain on their jobs after starting families—something she believes is a double standard because men with families seem to escape such scrutiny. “Women are working because they need the money,” she said. “Just because you have to leave for a while doesn’t mean you’re not coming back.”

Josephs said employers could allay those fears by embracing more nontraditional office settings, such as allowing mothers to work from home. “There’s more than one way to balance work and family,” she said.

Gender and ascribed roles of motherhood can make closing the pay gap hard for some women. Those who leave their jobs, even temporarily, to take care of their children might lose raises and earning potential as a result.

Few mothers have that luxury, however, according to statistics compiled by Women Employed; 77 percent of women with children between the ages of 6 and 17 are working.

Pay inequities have persisted in spite of federal and state laws prohibiting unequal pay on the basis of gender, Josephs said. In some cases, people are turning to the courts.

A nationwide class-action lawsuit, originally filed in 2001, alleges that Wal-Mart discriminated against women in promotions, wages and training. The lawsuit, which is ongoing, represents more than one million women.

Plaintiffs claim that women made up more than 70 percent of Wal-Mart’s workforce but just one-third of overall store management.

Roderick Scott, community affairs manager for Wal-Mart, said he could not comment on the lawsuit. But he said women now make up 60 percent of Wal-Mart’s associates and 40 percent of company managers.

After a long and sometimes bumpy road to complete his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Chicago State University, Tyrone Hudson, 29, was insulted to learn that whites with the same education make far more money than he does.

Among those with bachelor’s degrees, whites averaged more than $56,000 a year; 34 percent more than blacks, 35 percent more than Asians and 40 percent more than Latinos, according to the Reporter’s analysis.

Hudson, an African American who earns about $23,500 a year as a clerk at a downtown law firm, says the gap among college grads is unfair since blacks are more likely to endure hardships when pursuing their education.

“That gap is some BS because we go through more than [whites] do to get to the bachelor’s level,” said Hudson, who worked a full-time job while attending Chicago State to pay for his education and to help support his son, Ean, now 7 years old. “People might have problems at home or have to work a job just to go to school—which takes away from our studies and opportunities to get a job when we get out of school.”

However, census estimates for year-round, full-time workers show that median earnings for black men increased more from 1999 to 2004 than they did for any other group. Still, the $40,107 median for black men in 2004 was just 72 percent of the figure for white men.

Paul Street, former researcher for the Chicago Urban League, said several factors contribute to the disparity, mainly education, rates of incarceration and segregation. African Americans are “living where there’s the least jobs in [the] city, where employment is scarce, schools are problematic, and they have to travel further for good schools and jobs and fewer of them own cars,” said Street, author of a recently released book, “Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy, and the State of Black Chicago.”

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