Bernie Sanders on Equal Pay

Wage gaps affect workers based on a combination of factors including gender and race. Bernie Sanders believes workers deserve equal pay for equal work. He has fought for much of his political career to end discrimination and give working Americans the pay that they deserve.

Gender Wage Gap

A pay gap exists between men and women which, while seemingly small, accrues and adds up over time. Bernie has supported and pushed efforts to strengthen claims for women against gender discrimination.

How is the pay gap calculated?

In 2014, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published a report with statistical information pertaining to income across a wide field of variables. In the report, the BLS concludes that, “In 2013, women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $706, which represented 82 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($860).”

This means that if we line up all full-time earners in two lines, divided by gender, and sort each line from least income to most, the woman halfway through her line makes $706 a week. However, the man halfway through his line makes $860. According to this measure, compared to her male counterpart, an American female worker makes $0.82 for every $1 an American male worker makes.

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

It’s a mix. While the above comparison only demands that workers are full time, other studies have been carried out attempting to discriminate between the parts of the wage gap coming from “observable differences” such as experience and education, and those coming from “unobservable differences” such as employer discrimination, according to a 2003 report filed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report also stated that work patterns, such as not working full-time or leaving the workforce temporarily, played the largest role in influencing pay. Despite the difference, determining the precise cause was inconclusive.

report by the Joint Economic Council similarly found that “[t]he pay gap can only be partially explained by differences in personal choices.” Some analyses have found smaller gaps. A National Bureau of Economic Research report found that discrimination could account for, at most, 8 percent of the gap. In summary, most experts agree that there is a gap, but the amount of that gap which is attributed to discrimination varies.

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

Well, the point is that equal work deserves equal pay, but even if you don’t agree with that, the most conservative wage gap calculations add up over time. Putting the gap at a mere 2 percent for individual contributors means that a woman working the same job as her male counterpart, averaging $50,000 a year, will be shorted $1,000 a year. Over the course of a career, this amounts to tens of thousands of dollars which could have otherwise gone towards the purchase of a home, savings, or retirement. Compounding the effects of the wage gap, social security benefits are calculated based on wages made. Therefore, women who are paid less during their careers will also earn less in retirement.

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

In 2012, Bernie support the Paycheck Fairness Act and helped the effort to bring it to a vote again in 2014. The bill was designed to strengthen the claims that female employers had against companies in cases of sex or gender discrimination. 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.” Learn more about Bernie’s record on related issues at the Women’s Rights issue page.

Race Wage Gap

Bernie believes racism, mass incarceration, and unequal access to education are the reasons people of color have a difficult time finding jobs and getting equal pay for equal work. Given these are structural problems, Bernie believes the best way to address them is to fix the structures that support such inequities by reforming our broken criminal justice and education systems.

How does wealth among whites and people of color in America compare?

According to a joint report by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP), “the median white household had $111,146 in wealth holdings compared to just $7,113 for the median Black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household.” Another study IASP conducted over 25 years reveals that the wealth gap between white and African-American families rose from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009.

Do non-white workers really earn less for equal work than whites?

Blacks and Latinos in the U.S. earn significantly less than their white counterparts, as evidenced by the chart below published in the Harvard Business Review. Comparing median weekly salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) further reveals how race and gender relate to pay:

Comparing median weekly salaries from the U.S. Population Survey in 2013, we see that a median black male earns 75.1 cents for every dollar a median white male earns. A median Latino male earns only 67 cents. According to the same data, a median white woman makes 78 cents compared to a white male, and black and Latina women follow making 64 cents and 54 cents respectively. This data shows a large racial wage gap and illustrates how important both gender and race are when examining the wage gap.

Also, according to the BLS, Asian men and women make more than anyone in America. However, this may be explained by the fact that they have a higher average educational attainment.

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

It appears to be the case. Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published an experiment in which they sent thousands of resumes to various help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. Some resumes bore the white-sounding names “Emily” and “Greg”, and others had the 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 only every 15. (It is worth noting that this study did not check hiring rates or earnings.)

A story that went viral in 2014 seems to confirm the NBER results with regards to Latinos. A Mexican-American L.A. resident named José Zamora detailed how his job search was going nowhere until he changed his name on his resume from José to Joe, editing nothing else, and started getting callbacks from the same jobs that had ignored him previously.

What else contributes to the racial wage gap?

According to a 2001 paper by two labor economists, about half of the racial wage gap can be attributed to differences in work experience, differences in time out of the workforce, and differences in amount of education gained. Differences in the amount of education gained contribute more to the Latino wage gap, while differences in experience and time out of the workforce contribute more to the black wage gap.

The same paper goes on to explain that black Americans suffer from lower labor force participation for several reasons. When displaced from work, black workers take significantly longer than white workers to find new work. Also, black Americans with a criminal record find it much harder than white Americans with a criminal record to find work. Since black Americans are incarcerated at a higher rate, this has a drastic decreasing effect on labor force participation.

The graph shows the effect a criminal record has on one’s ability to get a job in America:
Additionally, the same paper notes that black unemployment is likely understated since incarcerated individuals are not included in the statistic. Learn more about Bernie’s stance on mass incarceration in the Criminal Justice issue page.

Wow, this is all very concerning.

Everyone is concerned! The black community is so worried by the scarcity of jobs paying good wages that they cite it as the number-one issue affecting their families:


Meanwhile, Latinos rank the economy and education (which eases access to jobs) above immigration, in terms of issues important to them:

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

In May 2015, Bernie introduced the College for All Act to help increase access to higher education by making all public colleges and universities tuition-free. This would provide those coming from low-income backgrounds a better chance to get an education that might allow them to gain the skills that could provide access to better economic opportunities.

Additionally, Bernie has supported expanding laws that protect against discrimination. As recently as November 2013, he voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Bernie has also spoken out against various contributors to over-incarceration of people of color. He has said that prison money would be better spent on job training and education. As previously noted, better training would help Latinos as well as blacks. Bernie has also declared the “war on drugs” to be largely a failure, as it has incarcerated too many non-violent offenders, a majority of them blacks.



Learn more about all these subjects on the Working PeopleCriminal Justice, and Latino Rights issue pages.