RACE AND GENDER EQUITY
Excerpts from the Economic Policy Institute's Policy Agenda on Race and Gender Equity
Eliminating economic disparities rooted in racial and gender biases
In the more than five decades since the passage of major civil rights legislation provided more equitable access to education and jobs, women and people of color have put a tremendous effort into obtaining more education and pursuing better-paying jobs while also working more hours and taking other actions to improve their economic standing.
Yet they are still paid less on average than similar white male workers, are more concentrated in low-wage jobs with few benefits, and have accumulated much less wealth. This is the legacy of structural racism and sexism. Long after the repeal of explicitly discriminatory laws and policies, women, and people of color continue to endure discrimination, occupational segregation, and other inequities.
To close the pay, opportunity, and wealth gaps these workers and their families face, we need to address the biased systems and structures that established and continue to perpetuate race and gender inequality. The following reforms would take important steps toward ending employment and pay discrimination, narrowing the wealth gap, and addressing other disparities rooted in racial and gender biases.
Equip workers to identify and challenge pay, hiring, and promotion discrimination
More than a half-century ago, landmark federal legislation outlawed employment discrimination—which includes pay discrimination—on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. Yet the gap between what black and white workers are paid is larger today than it was nearly 40 years ago. And progress toward closing the gender pay gap has been stalled for at least 15 years. Large racial and gender wage gaps persist even when comparing workers with similar education, experience, and geographic location.
Employers can get away with pay discrimination because workers often don’t know what others are paid and workers lack the evidence, or the legal and financial resources, needed to prove a case of discrimination. Further—even though it is illegal to do so—many employers either informally discourage workers from discussing pay or forbid workers from doing so. These pay secrecy policies contribute to the persistence of pay gaps.
To ensure pay transparency and crackdown on pay secrecy policies, we must strengthen enforcement to federal antidiscrimination laws by requiring employers to report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) what they pay their employees by job category, sex, race, and ethnicity. An Obama-era rule would have required companies to report this detailed salary data, but it has been blocked by the Trump administration. Reinstating this rule or enacting legislation requiring the EEOC to collect pay data would force companies to pay more attention to discriminatory pay disparities and give workers who are underpaid the evidence they need to pursue their claims.
Workers should not be locked into a lifetime of lower pay because of their pay history from previous jobs
We see significant racial and gender pay gaps among new entrants to the labor market and among older, more experienced workers. This suggests that as workers of color and women advance in their work lives, they rarely fully recover from relative wage disadvantages that existed early in their careers. A key reason is that employers routinely use information about pay from a previous job to set the salary in a current job offer. This practice tethers women workers and workers of color to lower levels of pay throughout their working lives. Allowing employers to ask about previous salary history also perpetuates pay inequities by providing cover for pay discrimination. Employers accused of pay discrimination have argued that women and workers of color are paid less because of their salary history.
To address this problem. Employers should be prohibited from asking job candidates about previous pay history. While states and cities have considered or enacted such measures, a federal law, such as that proposed by congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), would provide a uniform ban on this discriminatory practice.
Fair Chance Hiring and Occupational Licensing Reform
The surge of discriminatory “tough on crime” laws during the 1980s and 1990s, in combination with long-term systemic inequalities in the administration of criminal justice policies, have had a disproportionate effect on people of color. Higher rates of incarceration have removed large numbers of working-age men and women of color from their families and communities. When they return, they return to struggling neighborhoods with few employment opportunities, and their arrest and conviction histories make it hard to get a job.
Compounding the problem, in some states, a criminal record may make it impossible for someone to pursue a career as a hairstylist, plumber, truck driver, or any other occupation requiring a license. Together, the stigma of having a criminal record and the barriers formerly incarcerated workers face in the job market perpetuate the injustices of the criminal justice system and prevent families and communities from recovering
Expand fair-chance hiring reforms like “ban-the-box” and change occupational licensing requirements so that people who have been arrested or incarcerated have a real shot at going to work. Ban-the-box reforms are laws and policies that remove conviction history questions from job applications and delay background checks until later in the hiring process.
At last count, ban-the-box and fair-chance hiring policies were in place in 33 states and 150 cities and counties, with some policies extending beyond public-sector jobs to the private sector and to public contractors. Further expansion of fair-chance hiring—preferably through federal action—as well as occupational licensing reforms, will go a long way toward reducing some of the employment barriers faced by the formerly incarcerated and helping their communities recover. These reforms must be accompanied by a broader set of criminal justice and reentry reforms aimed at reducing incarceration rates and recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated people access skills development, housing, and other resources.