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Wage disparities between genders prevalent in El Paso


On March 26, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, visited Café Mayapan, where she focused her talk on the issue of equal pay for all people despite gender or ethnicity.

“It’s about being paid for what we do, not who we are,” Davis said in her speech.

El Paso is one of the lowest wage-paying counties in Texas and in the U.S.

According to a 2013 wages and earnings report by the Department of Labor Statistics, Texas has four of the 11 lowest-paying large counties in the U.S., including El Paso, which is behind Hidalgo, Cameron and Webb counties.

El Paso is also not an exception when it comes to the wage gap between men and women.

2012 statistics from U.S. Census Bureau on occupations by sex and median wages revealed that out of 36 occupations examined in El Paso, men made higher median wages than women in all but two categories.

The biggest median wage disparity was in legal occupations. Women make on average $44,863, while men make $91,250—a $46,387 difference.

The second-largest wage difference was in the health diagnosing and treating other practitioners and other technical occupations, where the median wage difference between men and women was $25,976.

The two occupations where women made a higher median wage than men were in office and administrative support occupations. Women make an average median wage of $22,094, while men make $21,305, and in the farming, foresting and fishing occupations, men make a median earning of $11,719 and women made $13,769.

Census statistics also reveal that differences in earning increase with education level.

El Paso men with only a high school degree had a median wage earning of $25,463, while women earned $16,382—a $9,081 difference.

The difference between men and women median earnings increased for people with a graduate or professional degree. Men earn a median wage of $66,443 and women earn $53,140, which is a $13,303 difference.

Charlotte Ullman, associate professor of teacher education, said being informed about wage differences allowed her to negotiate for a better salary when she received tenure.

“We know that salaries are lower for women… I knew all of those things going into it… I held out for a long time,” she said. “I think we did four negotiations and I finally said okay.”

During her visit on March 26, Davis cited statistics by the Center for American Progress that show women make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. Hispanic women make 45 cents for every dollar a man makes.

However, some critics doubt the accuracy of Davis’s statistics.

“Anyone who cites that data doesn’t understand it,” said Nathan Ashby, associate professor of economics. “People need to get rid of that because it’s bad science… You cannot just compare females and males, what you need to do is compare the hours.”

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, men are more likely to be on the job for 41 hours more per week than women, which may explain wage disparities.

“It’s not that large if you actually control different factors. It’s more like 90 cents on the dollar,” Ashby said.

Nanci Esparza, senior English and American literature major, is a proponent of the Texas Equal Pay Act.

“If a Latina woman makes 45 cents, I think that’s ridiculous,” she said. “People say we don’t need it (equal pay legislation). I think that’s ridiculous—that leaves me with the short end of the stick.”

Davis co-sponsored a bill last year to guarantee that Texas law mirrored gender wage protections from the 2009 federal Lilly Ledbetter Act, but it was vetoed by Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The bill officially known as House Bill 950 was authored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and introduced to the Texas Senate by Davis.

The bill mirrored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, a federal statute that amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the Lilly Ledbetter Act addresses the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit. The act states that pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck that is affected by that discriminatory action.

The Texas Tribune reported HB 950, “clarifies that pay discrimination claims based on sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability” accrue whenever an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck.

HB 950 had passed the Texas House and the Senate with partisan support before Perry’s veto. Forty-two other states have already passed similar legislation.

“Too many families rely on two incomes to make ends meet,” Davis said.

A 2013 report by the PEW Research Center that analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau stated, “A record 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.”

Brenda Risch, director of the Women’s Studies Program, said the old idea that there is only one breadwinner and that that breadwinner is the male is completely irrelevant in the 21st century.

“If we don’t have fair employment legislation, we don’t have protection for women in those situations,” Risch said.

Supporters of the HB 950 stress the importance of the bill by pointing to a Texas Supreme Court decision in August 2012 in the Prairie View A&M University v. Dilji K. Chatha case. Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office argued the federal protections don’t apply under state law and won. Their decision made it clear that Texas Law does not offer women the same protections as the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

A point that Wendy Davis has used to attack her opponent Abbott.

“Greg Abbott fought against equal pay for equal work in court, he defended Prairie View A&M University,” Davis said. “He knows better than anyone that existing law does not protect women.”

Davis claimed gender wage disparities are also reflected in Abbott’s own office.

“Women in Greg Abbot’s office earn only 74 cents on the dollar compared to men, which is worse than the state average,” Davis said. “Women with the same title doing the same work.”

According to Davis, the San Antonio Express News reported that female assistant attorney generals working in Abbott’s office make less on average than men in the same position. The average salary for the 343 male assistant attorney generals working in Abbot’s office was $79,964, while the average salary for 379 women was $73,649.

Matt Hirsch, the spokesman for Abbott’s campaign, has previously stated, “The Texas Constitution and both state and federal law guarantee a woman’s right to equal pay in Texas. Equal pay is the law in Texas, and as governor, Greg Abbott will continue to ensure it’s enforced.”

The issue of equal pay will likely continue to be at the forefront of Davis’s campaign for Texas governor.

“I can assure you that if I’m elected governor I will definitely not be too busy to sign the Texas Equal Pay Act when it lands on my desk,” Davis said.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected].

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Wage disparities between genders prevalent in El Paso