A study released last year by the National Partnership for Women and Families shocked Seattle when it listed the city as the worst in the nation regarding the gender wage gap. Based largely on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the study found that Seattle women make an average of 73 cents for every dollar that men make, which is seven percent lower than the national gender wage gap. On April 8, for National Equal Pay Day, activist group Radical Women will gather outside of Seattle City Hall to demonstrate in support of closing the wage gap in Seattle and beyond.
“I was surprised to learn how much of a problem the wage gap is in Seattle in particular,” Gina Petry of Radical Women said. “People are very upset and disheartened about what’s happening in our society in terms of inequality.”
Petry is a 14-year Seattle resident making her home in Capitol Hill. She became involved with Radical Women shortly after arriving in the city. She spoke with The Capitol Hill Times about the organization, its growth over the past few years, and its upcoming political action on Equal Pay Day.
Radical Women’s “Scrap the Wage Gap” action will begin at 4:30 p.m. in front of Seattle City Hall. The demonstration’s official speakers will include members of Radical Women, women workers from around Seattle, and union representatives. The gathering will also deliver a letter of demands for action to the Seattle City Council.
On the national level, legislation to completely close the gender wage gap has stalled. The Paycheck Fairness Act has come to the United States Congress twice and failed to pass both houses on each occasion. The PFA is essentially a reinforcement and clarification of the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1963, one of President John F. Kennedy’s crowning achievements. The EPA established legal protections for women who believed their pay was discriminatory compared to men employed at the same company performing the same job. In the 50 years since its enactment, many court cases citing the EPA have leaned heavily on a clause that allows employers to discriminate between employees claiming “a differential based on any other factor other than sex.” The PFA would severely limit the application of this clause.
The gender wage gap closed steadily between 1963 and 2012, when the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data ends. Women’s pay rose from approximately half of men’s pay at the start of the law to the all-time high of 83 percent in 2011, dipping occasionally between 2011 and 2012. The sharpest increase occurred between 1989 and 1993, jumping eight percent in those four years alone. In Seattle and nationally, the gender wage gap is considerably starker for black and Latina women. White women saw a 31 percent increase in their pay compared to white men over the past 30 years, while black women only experienced a 20 percent increase and Latinas 13 percent.
Determining the cause of the wage gap can be challenging. The gap differs from state to state and city to city, based largely on what kinds of work are available in those areas. Across the board, women tend to occupy white-collar positions, from administrative work to management, as well as service sector positions. Men still make up the overwhelming majority of workers in labor-related jobs like construction, factory work, natural resources, and transportation. There is a greater proportion of men in positions that pay overtime rates, and men tend to earn more in both hourly rates and salaried positions, regardless of industry.
Radical Women hopes to use Equal Pay Day to highlight steps that the City of Seattle could take to close the wage gap at home. According to Petry, the organization strongly supports the creation of new public works programs, especially those that reach out to women who work in positions usually held by men. Radical Women would also like to see an expansion of City Councilmember Tim Burgess’s universal preschool platform to include universal childcare beyond the preschool years, as well as government support for elder care and reproductive care. As an avowedly socialist organization and a partner of the Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women calls for greater taxes on large corporations and Seattle’s wealthiest residents.
“We have been energized over the past few years,” Petry said. “There’s a lot more knowledge about what the problem is, but what we really want to put forward is solutions.”
Radical Women has regular meetings at New Freeway Hall in Columbia City. The group will also co-sponsor the Fight for $15 minimum wage action with the Freedom Socialist Party on April 17.