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Women's groups say unequal pay still widespread, and worse for women of color

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

It's a long-known truth that women and men who work the same job do not bring home the same amount of pay. Local women's advocates provided updated statistics on Thursday that show the gap remains wide for all women, but is worse for women of color. And women's groups say the inequality hurts not just the women but families and the entire economy.

Representatives of the American Association of University Women, Western New York Women's Foundation and Erie County Commission on the Status of Women gathered inside the offices of Bak USA to offer a report on gender pay equity.

Using U.S. Census data, the speakers reported that women working full time in 2016 earned 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man, a 20 percent difference, for the same work.

"The data shows that the median income of men and women has raised a bit from last year but the difference between men's and women's median wages has increased as well," said Karen King, executive director of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women. "Last year there was about a $10,000 differential. This year, it is almost $12,000 between men and women."

The numbers are far worse for women of certain ethnic groups. African-American women earned only 63 percent of what white male counterparts earn, and other minorities including Native American, Pacific Islander and Alaska Native earned no more than 57 cents on the dollar.

Numbers suggest that in New York State, the difference between men's and women's wages was 11 percent. But Sheri Scavone, executive director of the Western New York Women's Foundation, says that number is misleading, because the stats are skewed when New York City data is included.

"If you look at New York City as a subset of New York, or you look at our area outside of New York, that pay gap is larger than New York State is reporting," Scavone said. 

Three bills have been put forth in Washington that aim to address the gap and attempt to close it. One piece of legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act, closes loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Another, the Fair Pay Act, would require employers to provide equal wages for work of equal value. The proposed Pay Equity For All Act would bar employers from asking about salary history before offering a job.

Patricia Miceli, with the Buffalo Branch of the AAUW, said there is cause for concern because, earlier the Trump Administration . She says there's cause for concern because the Trump Administration recently eliminated an Obama Administration rule that required larger companies disclose how they pay employees based on gender and race.

"Pay transparency alone won't solve the pay gap problem. But without it, employees and regulators won't have the evidence they need that a problem exists at a particular company," Miceli said. "And employers will face less pressure to fix it."

There are a few exceptions where an employer does pay employees equally. Bak USA is one of them. The company's president, Ulla Bak, suggested that continuing the pay gap will hurt not only women but their families and the overall economy. And, she added, it could result in a loss of talent. She lamented that of the job applications they receive, women represent fewer of the candidates.

"The society in the future has to acknowledge that women, who actually account for 80 percent of the purchase power in the United States, have to have the same opportunities as men."

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