US women made economic strides in 2018, but pay gap persists

Average household income largely remained flat as the number of uninsured went up, though the poverty rate declined.

    Pay discrimination in the United States was banned more than 50 years ago, but women earn only 82 cents for every dollar made by a man [Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters]
    Pay discrimination in the United States was banned more than 50 years ago, but women earn only 82 cents for every dollar made by a man [Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters]

    Women in the United States are landing more full-time jobs, bringing in bigger paycheques and rising out of poverty, according to US Census Bureau data released on Tuesday. But the gender pay gap persists.

    Economic gains for female workers were a notable bright spot in a report that showed US household incomes barely budged in 2018 - after growing for three straight years.

    The US Census Bureau said that median household income was $63,179 last year, compared with $62,626 in 2017.

    By race, real median incomes grew for Asian households, but were flat for white, black and Hispanic households.

    Meanwhile, the number of people living in poverty fell slightly to 11.8 percent of the population, down from 12.3 percent the prior year, according to federal government data.

    "A lower poverty rate for black and Hispanic female-led households was a big reason for the decline," said a research note from IHS Markit. "Poverty rates decreased in every geographic region except the South."

    Census figures also suggest that the number of Americans without health insurance rose for the first time in a decade. About 27.5 million residents did not have health insurance in 2018, up from 25.6 million during the previous year.

    While US President Donald Trump likes to say that the economy's success is reaching everyday Americans, the recent statistics may not tell the same story.

    The data reflect a year in which US economic growth was boosted by Trump's tax overhaul and a rise in government spending, the effects of which have begun to wane.

    Financial security?

    Income figures show working women are earning more money than they did during the boom years before the 2008 financial crisis, surpassing the gains for men.

    Median earnings for women working full-time were 5.8 percent higher in 2018 than in 2007, before the start of the recession. In contrast, earnings for men working full-time were not statistically different from 2007.

    Women, however, were still earning substantially less than their male peers. Median earnings for women working full-time amounted to 82 percent of the median earnings for men, reflecting a gender pay gap that was essentially unchanged from 2017 to 2018.

    Census findings also echoed a trend highlighted in the monthly jobs report for August, which found that more women are either working or looking for jobs, shrinking the gender gap in the labour participation rate to the lowest level on record.

    The share of working women with full-time jobs rose to 63.9 percent last year, a full percentage point higher than in 2017, according to the census data. That was greater than the 0.7 percentage point increase in the portion of working men with full-time jobs, which rose to 76.3 percent in 2018.

    The gains are helping more low-income women to become more financially secure. The poverty rate for women fell to 12.9 percent in 2018 from 13.6 percent in 2017, while the poverty rate for men was 10.6 percent in 2018, not statistically changed from 2017.

    'Fail to improve'

    The US Congress formally outlawed pay discrimination based on gender in 1963, but the new numbers have sparked renewed calls to end such unfair treatment.

    Dollarwise, the US Census Bureau said women made a median of about $45,000 compared with about $55,000 for men in 2018.

    "That's an annual wage gap that adds up to more than $10,000 a year, which is really substantial," said Jessica Mason, senior policy analyst at the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington-based public policy advocacy group.

    "We've seen that number really fail to improve very significantly in the past several years, which is very discouraging," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Globally, the World Economic Forum reported that - on average - women earned 63 percent of what men earned in 2018.

    Explanations range from sheer bias to the fact that many women leave the paid workforce to care for families, then lag on the wage scale when they return.

    However, the US gap has decreased since 2007, when women earned 78 cents for every dollar that men were paid, said Trudi Renwick, an assistant division chief at the US Census Bureau.

    "We have seen improvements over the past decade for sure," she said.

    Mason added that a more marked change in the wage gap required public policy changes to eliminate wage discrimination, protect pregnant women from losing their jobs and provide families with affordable childcare.

    She said that "a few cents" hardly qualified as "an admirable improvement".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies