By Ariama C. Long
The gender and racial pay gap continues to be an issue for the New York City municipal workforce, according to a pay equity report released this month.
“Sadly, this report proves what we already speculated about pay disparities among city workers, but now we have concrete data to work with in identifying the main problems and appropriate recommendations,” said Speaker Corey Johnson. “We now must focus on solutions to eliminate barriers that keep women and people of color from having access to higher positions in city agencies.”
The data was made available by the Pay Equity Law passed in 2019. The law was sponsored by Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Councilmember I. Daneek Miller.
“It shows clear, across-the-board discrimination of occupations that have a predominantly Black and Brown workforce,” said Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo. “It is also incredible to see and verify that the ‘glass ceiling’ of executive management exists for people of color across the entire city workforce. I hope this annual report is expanded and included in future budget discussions so we can make sure those who make the city run are paid a fair wage.”
The law was designed to create more data about race and gender by showing the difference between median salaries for men, women, and white or non-white employees.
The median salary for men is $21,600 higher than for women, and for a white employee, it is $27,800 higher than a Black employee’s salary and $22,200 higher than the pay for a Latinx employee, said the report.
The report concluded that white men tended to hold higher ranking and higher paying positions.
However, even a Black employee with the same civil service title, who is in the same agency and has the same demographic characteristics as a white employee, would expect to make about 2% less than the salary of a white employee, said the report.
The civil service titles with the lowest median salaries have a larger proportion of female and non-white employees conclusively, stated the report.
“The Pay Equity in New York City report illustrates how ingrained racial and gender pay disparities are within our municipal workforce who were essential to keeping our city operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Councilmember Farah Louis.
Damon said that pay inequity has been a constant since women entered the workforce, but the institutionalization of pay disparities within city government is simply unacceptable and must be rectified. She said the PowHer organization has been pushing for legislation to ensure pay parity for a long time.
“Pay parity is an essential element of economic justice, and the Council’s effort to close those gaps is to be commended. But as a city we must say enough is enough. A great deal of work lies ahead,” said Damon.
According to the latest pay gap numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Labor, on average women took home 82.3 cents for every dollar paid to men. In 2019, Black women were paid 63% of white/non-Latinx men’s wages and Latinas were paid 55% of white/non-Hispanic men’s wages.
Black women, in particular, also hold student loan debt at a higher rate than white counterparts because of the pay gap, making it harder to own a home, car, launch a business, or plan for retirement, said the American Association of University Women.
Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer for AAUW Gloria Blackwell said that these findings are classic examples of “occupational segregation,” which occurs when certain demographic groups in certain jobs are under or over-represented.
“They tend to bring it up as a major factor in the pay gap,” said Blackwell, “but it doesn’t really account for all the differences in unequal pay.”
Blackwell said part of the problem is just the way women’s work is valued compared to men’s, even in higher paying fields. In other cases, she said, lots of women chose certain fields or opportunities with more flexibility because of more family responsibilities or child care.
Another part of the problem, she said, is negotiating salary. Many employers are biased in assuming your current or previous salary was adequate enough, she said, but they do anticipate that participants broker for more or ask for benefits during the hiring process.
“Salary negotiation really is key to getting paid your worth. Knowing your value,” said Blackwell. “And as a Black woman, we definitely, I think many are hesitant to negotiate because so many have faced bias and discrimination in the hiring process. Many are conditioned to think they should just be thankful they got an offer for a position. What that does is keep Black women chronically underpaid and underpromoted.”
Blackwell said AAUW holds workshops to teach and encourage Black women to examine their qualifications and negotiate for better salaries, but there is still an estimated century’s worth of time before the gender and racial pay gap is evened out.
So how does the city begin to close it?
“We will take a closer look at the report’s analysis, findings, and recommendations to take meaningful action to address this important issue,” said Councilmember Adrienne Adams.
The city council’s recommendations to lessen the pay gaps, in response to the findings, include collecting additional data, creating reports on the gender and race of civil service exam applicants, changing the language of job postings and recruitment materials to eliminate biases, and requiring agencies to perform internal pay equity analyses and adjust salaries as needed.
Blackwell said collecting more data is always helpful because it allows city agencies to have solid information on who’s being paid and how. The city can’t fix a problem it can’t identify, said Blackwell, and the data will raise the needed awareness across all occupation levels of real pay gap issues.
“Data really is important, but in general we can also say that some of the disparities are systemic problems,” said Blackwell. “Data’s one piece of the pie but it goes much deeper than that. When you look at a really progressive city like New York with these problems, you can just imagine what’s happening in other parts of the country.”
Maya Pottiger contributed to this story.