Bernie Sanders on Equal Pay

Women are paid less than men and non-white workers are paid less than their white counterparts for doing the same work. There are persistent wage gaps for workers based on gender, race and race within gender, sexual orientation, and immigrant v. U.S. born. Bernie believes workers deserve equal pay for equal work. He has fought throughout his political career to end wage discrimination and give all American workers the pay they have earned and deserve.

Gender Wage Gap: Women make 82 cents for every dollar men make. Women are less likely than men to hold high-level, high-paying jobs. We must remove the structural barriers that keep women from advancing in the workplace. Bernie believes wage discrimination based on gender is wrong and must end. He has supported legislation throughout his career to help women secure equal pay.

Race Wage Gap: People of color have a harder time finding jobs and get paid less than their white counterparts when they do. Bernie believes wage discrimination based on race is wrong and must end. Structural problems such as racism, mass incarceration, and access to quality education are also to blame, and so Bernie has introduced and supported legislation to reform our criminal justice and education systems.

Immigrant Wage Gap: Immigrant workers account for a large part of all workers in the U.S., but they earn much less than U.S. born workers for the same jobs.

Sexual Orientation Wage Gap: LGBTQ workers earn less than their heterosexual counterparts, and Bernie has supported legislation to combat this discrimination.

Gender Wage Gap

A persistent pay gap exists between men and women which may seem small, but is not as it adds up over time. In real terms this pay imbalance means a woman would have to work 39 extra days to earn the same as a man. Bernie recognizes the broad impact of lower wages for women.  He said, “Equal pay is not just a women’s issue; it’s a family issue. When women don’t receive equal pay for equal work, families across America have less money to spend on child care, groceries, and housing.

How is the pay gap calculated?

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the main government agency that collects data to measure labor market activity and working conditions. The 2018 BLS report concludes that, “In 2017, women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $770, which represented 82 percent of men’s median weekly earnings of $941.”

According to this measure, a female worker makes $0.82 for every $1 a male worker makes.

In 2017, the real median earnings for men employed full-time, year-round was $52,146 and for women it was $41,977. The female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.805 meaning a pay difference of $10,169.

There is also a race wage gap within the gender wage gap.

From the BLS report, among women, weekly earnings among Black women was $657 and Hispanic women $603.

According to this measure. For every $1 a white man makes a Black women earn $0.61, and Latina women $0.53.

The wage gap is probably worse than these numbers indicate.  The BLS numbers are only for full time workers.  24% of women in the labor force work part time and their wages are not included in these statistics.

5.8 percent of working women and 4.2 percent working men made up the working-poor in 2016. That means at least 4.1 million working women and 3.4 million working men lived below the official poverty line in 2016. Again, the impact of low wages is greater for Black and Hispanic women, who were two times more likely to be among the working-poor than White women. The working-poor rates for Black and Hispanic women were 10.5 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively, compared with 4.9 percent for White women.

American women are not alone in struggling with gender disparity with wages. The gender pay gap persists worldwide, including Europe and has been widely underestimated

OK, but this doesn’t seem to control for other factors. Is this a problem with employers paying unequally, or with workers’ specific situations?

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that women earned  44 percent less than men from 1983 to 2000. The difference was reduced to 21 percent after controlling for the independent variables: years of work experience, hours worked per year, time out of the labor force, length of time at the job (tenure), unemployment, and whether the individual worked a full-time or part-time schedule. The GAO report stated that work patterns, such as not working full-time or leaving the workforce temporarily, played the largest role in influencing pay. Women who took just one year off had earnings 39% lower than women who worked all fifteen years between 2001 and 2015.

Some studies have examined the impact of “observable differences” such as experience and education, and those coming from “unobservable differences” such as employer discrimination. Adjusting for all variables that may account for the lack of parity in wages still doesn’t fully explain away the gender wage gap

One recent study which controls for additional variables such as: geography, experience, and job titles finds the unexplained gender wage gap to be around 8%.

This map shows the gender pay gap by state.

A report by the Joint Economic Council found that “[t]he pay gap can only be partially explained by differences in personal choices.” 

The fact is that a gender wage gap remains even after making all such adjustments, but the amount of that gap which is attributed to discrimination varies. 8 percent is the the currently accepted number due to discrimination. 

If the gap due to discrimination is just 8 percent, what’s the concern?

Well, the point is that equal work deserves equal pay.  The most conservative wage gap calculations add up over time. If the gender wage gap was a mere 2 percent, of a $50,000 per year salary, that means a woman would earn $1,000 a year less. Over the course of a career, this amounts to tens of thousands of dollars. And retirement is affected also since Social Security benefits are calculated based on wages earned meaning that women who are paid less during their careers will also earn less in retirement.

Women are an integral part of the labor force, yet they are experiencing overt gender discrimination. In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 42% of working women reported experiencing gender discrimination at work. 

And this issue is not going to just disappear. While the gender wage gap has decreased, progress has stalled. One study estimates that “if the pace of change in the annual earnings ratio continues at the same rate as it has since 1960, it will take another 41 years, until 2059, for men and women to reach parity.”

Other than discrimination, what factors show women are paid less?

The reality is that someone must run the household and be responsible for child-rearing duties, and it continues to be women who do most of this very important, uncompensated work. Because of this need for a work-life balance, many women, in particular those with children or caring for loved ones, must have reduced schedules or flexible work schedules. Non-professional women often must take part-time work instead of full-time work, sometimes combining 2 or 3 jobs to earn enough money to pay the bills.

The need for a flexible work schedule reduces work opportunities in many ways for these workers.  They have less mobility and cannot travel long distances for work or easily move for better job opportunities. They have less time so they can’t work long hours and don’t have the time for training to gain job skills or bolster resumes. They have breaks in employment to have children and to care for their children so they are often passed over for raises and promotions.  All of these choices result in inequities that limit job opportunity and the ability to advance in a career. 


Some argue that unequal work means unequal pay. They argue that some women choose to work in professions that pay less, so they earn less not because of discrimination but because of their own choice of profession. But there are other reasons women make different job choices

It is more complicated than just choosing one job over another. There are cultural and social norms and expectations that define job choices for many women.  

There’s a lower value on the work that many women do. There’s no question that women are overrepresented in low-paying teaching, nursing, and service jobs and underrepresented in high paying computer programming and engineering jobs.


Teachers deserve to be paid more. Nurses deserve to be paid more. Service industry and retail workers deserve to be paid a living wage

Simply ignoring the pay gap because some of it can be explained by factors other than discrimination does not do justice to the issue. The opportunity gap, societal norms, and structural barriers that keep women from holding high-level, high-paying jobs and advancing in the workplace must also be addressed in a serious manner.

What has Bernie done to eliminate the gender wage gap?

Bernie finds gender disparity in wages unacceptable. He wants to Adopt Equal Pay for Equal Work through the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Bernie is a co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2019 which would prohibit employers from asking job applicants about previous wages, criminalizes retaliation against employees who ask about their wages and increases penalties for wage violations. In 2012, Bernie supported the Paycheck Fairness Act and helped bring the bill to a vote again in 2014. In March of 2001, Bernie cosponsored a constitutional amendment that would guarantee fair treatment and employment of women. It reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 

Bernie is a cosponsor of the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. He is also a cosponsor of the FAMILY Act, which would provide medical and paid family leave benefits.

Bernie joined as a cosponsor when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was reintroduced in the Senate in March 2019. He has repeatedly called for the ERA to be ratified.

Among his twelve point Economic Agenda for America, Bernie wrote that we must “provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.” In addition to these more recent efforts, Bernie voted in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which aims “to ensure that individuals subjected to unlawful pay discrimination are able to effectively assert their rights under the federal anti-discrimination laws.”

One report suggests that there are other policies that would help reduce the gender pay gap, such as: strengthening equal employment opportunity policies, enforcing Title IX, providing paid family and medical leave and making affordable child care accessible would all help mitigate the inequalities facing women in the labor force. Bernie supports all of these policies.Throughout his career, Bernie has fought for working families and he continues to do so

Learn more about Bernie’s record on related issues at the Women’s Rights issue page.

Race Wage Gap

Do non-white workers really earn less?

There is a persistent racial wage gap. Blacks and Latinos in the U.S. earn less than their White counterparts.  Black and Hispanic women experience the biggest pay gaps. For Blacks the wage gap is worsening. Wages for Blacks has remained stagnant for over a decade.  

From the 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, median weekly earnings among Black men was $710 and Hispanic men $690. Median weekly earnings among Black women was $657 and Hispanic women $603. Median weekly earnings among white men was $971 and white women $795.

As mentioned above, the racial wage gap is likely worse than indicated by these numbers because the BLS numbers are only for full time workers.  24% of women in the labor force work part time and their wages are not included in these statistics.

The BLS reports that 10.5 percent of working Black women and 9.6 percent of working Hispanic women were among the working poor compared with 4.9 percent of working White women.

According to the 2017 BLS numbers, for every $1 a white man makes:

  • a Black man earns 75 cents 
  • a Black woman earns 67 cents 
  • a Latino man earns 71 cents
  • a Latina women 62 cents

Is it harder to get an interview as a person of color in the United States?

That appears to be the case. Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) conducted an experiment in which they sent thousands of resumes to various help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. Some resumes had white-sounding names “Emily” and “Greg”, and others had black-sounding names “Lakisha” and “Jamal”. Those with white-sounding names got one callback for every 10 applications; those with black-sounding names got one callback for every 15. 

A story that went viral in 2014 seems to confirm the NBER results with regard to Latinos. José Zamora described that his job search was going nowhere until he changed his name on his resume from José to Joe, editing nothing else.  After changing his name to a white sounding name he started getting callbacks from the same jobs that had previously ignored him.

In a recent poll, 57% of Black Americans reported being personally discriminated against when it comes to being paid equally or considered for promotion. And 56% of Blacks reported discrimination when applying for jobs.

What else contributes to the racial wage gap?

The work people do has a large impact on wages earned.  Many more Black and Latino workers have service jobs that pay less than managerial jobs. As with the opportunity gap between women and men there is an opportunity gap between White and non-White workers as discussed above in the gender wage gap section.

One paper attributes about half of the racial wage gap to differences in education, work experience, and time out of the workforce. For Latinos the amount of education may contribute more to the wage gap, while differences in experience and time out of the workforce may contribute more to the Black wage gap.

But education may not be enough.  A recent study found that college graduates from lower income backgrounds earn 71 percent higher lifetime earnings than people with just a high-school diploma but much less than college graduates from wealthier backgrounds, who benefit a lot more from getting a college degree. The BLS reports that Whites earn more than other groups in every category: no high school diploma, high school diploma, some college, college degree.

As this chart shows, the racial wage gap exists, even controlling for education. 

Also contributing to the wage gap for black workers is that when displaced from work, Black workers take significantly longer than White workers to find new work. Additionally, Black workers with a criminal record find it much harder than White workers with a criminal record to find a job. Since Blacks and Latinos are incarcerated at a higher rate, this has a large effect on labor force participation and impacts wages by limiting job opportunities.  

A 2017 field study found that “a criminal record reduces the chance of a callback for a job offer by nearly 50 percent (28 vs.15 percent)”. As the graph below shows, the negative impact of having a criminal record for Blacks is much higher than it is for Whites.

Learn more about Bernie’s stance on mass incarceration in the Criminal Justice issue page.

Wow, this is all very concerning.

Everyone is concerned! And most Black adults (73%) think the situation is getting worse. The Black community is so worried by the scarcity of jobs paying good wages that they cite it as on of the most important issues affecting their families. A Black Economic Alliance poll found the top five economic issues for Black voters for the 2020 election are health care affordability (87%), investing in skills training (85%), affordable child care (86%), college affordability (83%), and eliminating race and gender wage gaps (83%). 

Only 30% of Blacks believe they have as good a chance as a white people in their community of getting a job that they are qualified for.

In another poll, 64 percent of Blacks believe that there is unfair treatment in the workplace and that being Black has made it harder to succeed in life.

Latinos rank the economy and healthcare as the most important issues:

How has Bernie worked to get rid of the racial wage gap?

He is a cosponsor of the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. 

Bernie has been on the forefront of the Fight for $15 since 2015.  He understands that raising the minimum wage will be a tremendous help for Latino and Black workers and their families.  He says on his 2020 campaign website, “Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Black and Latino workers disproportionately work minimum wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage will increase the wages of 38% of African-American workers and 33% of Latino workers.”

Teachers deserve to be paid more. Nurses deserve to be paid more. Service industry and retail workers deserve to be paid a living wage

Bernie is calling for Jobs for All.  On his 2020 campaign website, Bernie says, “we need millions of workers to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure” and to “build our 100% sustainable energy system” and “we need hundreds of thousands of workers to provide quality care to the young children of our country.”

More education means improved economic opportunity and access to better paying jobs. Removing the cost barrier to higher education not only makes education accessible to lower income students but also ensures students will not be burdened by crushing student debt when they graduate. This give graduates more employment options.

That’s why Bernie wants to make public college and universities tuition-free. Bernie introduced legislation to do this in 2015 and 2017.

Bernie understands the connection between economic inequality and racial inequality and has long spoken out against institutional racism and over-incarceration of people of color, particularly in the failed “war on drugs” He has said that prison money would be better spent on job training and education. Access to job training and job placement would help Blacks and Latinos acquire the job skills that are needed to succeed.  

Immigrant Wage Gap

In 2016, there were 27.0 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force, 16.9 percent of total full time workers. Immigrant workers earn substantially less than U.S. born workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that foreign-born workers made 83.1 percent of the earnings of their native-born counterparts in 2016. 

The 2017 Bureau of Labor and Statistics report shows foreign-born workers median weekly earnings were $715 compared to the median weekly earnings of $860 for their native-born counterparts. The median weekly earnings among foreign-born men was $751 while native born men earned $951. Median weekly earnings among foreign-born women was $655 which is 86.0 percent of the $762 in weekly earnings of their native-born counterparts. 


The wage gap between U.S. born workers and immigrants is persistent, and takes longer to close than it did in 1980.

Economists found that in 1980, it took foreign-born men 16-20 years to earn as much as native-born men. By 2000, it took male immigrants over 30 years. In 1980 it took foreign-born women 11-15  years to earn as much as native-born women. By 2000, it took them 21-30 years.

As with the gender wage gap and the race wage gap, the immigrant wage gap is probably worse than these numbers indicate.  The BLS numbers are only for full time workers.  24% of women and 12% of men in the labor force work part time and their wages are not included in these statistics.

Sexual Orientation Wage Gap

LGBTQ workers earn less than straight people based on a survey conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey. The LGBTQ wage gap described below is not included in Bureau of Labor and Statistics data because sexual orientation is not included in the data the U.S. government collects. 

Average reported income of the survey respondents:

  • Lesbian: $45,606
  • Gay: $56,936
  • Bisexual woman: $35,980
  • Bisexual man: $85,084
  • Heterosexual woman: $51,461
  • Heterosexual man: $83,469

It is difficult to draw conclusions about the causes, prevalence or persistence of the LGBTQ wage gap from just one study. One thing we do know is that the LGBTQ community faces on going discrimination in the workplace. Bernie has supported the LGBTQ community throughout his career

Bernie voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, which prohibits workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Bernie is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act of 2019 which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Learn more about all these subjects on the Working People, Criminal Justice, and Latino Rights, and LGBTQ, and Immigration issue pages.