News & Commentary

April 3, 2019

Yesterday was National Equal Pay Day, a holiday created in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity to raise awareness of gender pay disparities.  In the United States, it is observed on the day of the year until which women would have to work to earn what their male counterparts earned in the preceding year.  To honor the occasion, the New York Times published a primer on the pay gap.  The piece notes that women who work full-time in the United States earn a median of 80 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.  Women of color fare far worse, with black women earning 61 cents, Native American women earning 58 cents, and Hispanic women earning 53 cents.  On average, that pay gap costs American women $10,169 per year, or $403,440 over the course of a 40-year career.  The article also shoots down several common myths, including that women choose to earn more by taking jobs in lower-paying fields, that maternity leave and education levels account for the disparity, and that they just don’t ask for raises.  Based on the current pace of progress, the pay gap will not close until 2059.

Meanwhile, two employees at Walt Disney Studios filed a complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court claiming that Disney discriminates against female workers by paying them less than male employees.  Both plaintiffs have worked for Disney for over a decade.  The plaintiffs are seeking back pay and lost benefits, but are also asking the court to order Disney to “remedy the effects of Disney’s past and present unlawful employment policies.”  The proposed means of doing so include adjusting salaries and benefits and creating a task force dedicated to gender disparities.  The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Lori E. Andrus, stated that “[w]omen are fed up with being treated as cheap labor” and hoped that the lawsuit would “shed some light on the pay discrimination that Disney is subjecting its hard-working female employees to.”  Andrus also pointed to statistics indicating that male employees of Disney in the UK earn 22% more than their female counterparts.  Disney denied the allegations.

Google is attempting to close a gap of its own.  Yesterday, the company announced that it will now require the staffing companies with which it works to pay its contracted workers at least $15 an hour and to provide them with health benefits.  The rules also require staffing companies to give Google’s contractors 12 weeks of paid parental leave and $5,000 in tuition reimbursement per year.  Google has been criticized for the massive disparity in pay between its full-time employees and contract workforce, which is estimated to number in the thousands.

New York City’s preschool and early childhood center workers are considering a strike as union leaders butt heads with city officials over teacher pay.  Many of the workers are employed by community organizations offering free preschool and day-care under municipal contracts and claim that they earn less money than preschool teachers employed by the state’s Department of Education.  The schools themselves, which serve over 40,000 children, claim that their contracts with the city do not provide enough funding to raise salaries.  A spokesperson for the Department of Education indicated that city officials were open to negotiating with the workers’ union and reaffirmed the city’s commitment to its early educators.  The strike is tentatively planned for the first week in May.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal hosted a debate over the effects of artificial intelligence on the global labor market.  On one side, Carl Benedikt Frey argues that “the coming revolution in artificial intelligence is likely to destroy more jobs than it creates in the short run[,]” but is considerably more sanguine about the long-term benefits of the technology.  On the other, Robert D. Atkinson contends that automation has not and will not lead to net job loss, and scoffs at the idea of a robot tax.


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