Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

How elected officials and Pittsburghers — yes, you! — can help close Pa.’s gender wage gap

It’s not just policies that need to change.

Sarah Anne Hughes

The wage gap between working women and men in Pennsylvania varies widely from congressional district to congressional district. But regardless of the size of the pay disparity, it’ll take more than just policy shifts to close it.

A new analysis of census data from the National Partnership for Women and Families shows that the wage gap between men and women in Pennsylvania is $0.21, around the national median. The data’s release is tied to today’s Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into a second year a woman would have to work to make as much as a man in 365 days.

In Pa.’s congressional District 14, which encompasses all of Pittsburgh and some of the surrounding suburbs, women make $0.83 for every dollar a man makes. The wage gap is wider in District 14’s neighbors to the north and south: $0.75 in District 12 and $0.72 in District 18.

The disparity is worse for black and Latina women. According to the analysis, the median wage for a black woman in Pennsylvania is $35,589 a year compared to a white man’s $52,031 — a difference of $16,442. It’s even more significant for Latina women in the state, who make a median yearly wage of $29,546.

DistrictNamePartyWomen's annual median wagesMen's annual median wagesWage gap
1 Robert A. BradyD $40,109 $45,463 $0.88
2Dwight EvansD$41,971$46,781$0.90
3Mike KellyR$33,556$50,235$0.67
4Scott PerryR$37,587$50,155$0.75
5Glenn ThompsonR$33,325$45,385$0.73
6Ryan CostelloR$50,518$63,351$0.80
7Patrick MeehanR$51,738$66,252$0.78
8Brian FitzpatrickR$50,537$64,925$0.78
9Bill ShusterR$33,468$46,159$0.73
10Thomas MarinoR$34,548$45,884$0.75
11Lou BarlettaR$36,353$46,943$0.77
12Keith RothfusR$40,622$54,375$0.75
13Brendan F. DoyleD$45,371$52,210$0.87
14Michael F. DoyleD$38,451$46,354$0.83
15Charles W. DentR$39,134$50,586$0.77
16Lloyd K. SmuckerR$36,365$46,093$0.79
17Matthew CartwrightD$36,527$46,403$0.79
18Tim MurphyR$41,253$57,414$0.72

Where to spend Equal Pay Day

There are also Equal Pay days to emphasize the income disparity for black, Latina, Asian-American and Native American women. But “instead of celebrating each one separately,” Pittsburgh’s Black Femme Excellence Co. wants to look at “the whole picture of wage oppression” this Equal Pay Day, said co-founder Sueño Del Mar. That means taking an intersectional approach that accounts for how the wage gap also affects trans women, people with disabilities and immigrants, both undocumented and otherwise.

Black Femme Excellence Co., which was born out of the intersectional feminism march, will host an event today at Freedom Corner with speakers who will share their experiences with the wage gap and offer possible solutions. Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is scheduled to attend.

“The standard conversations of equal pay, they 100 percent are extremely ableist and cisnormative,” Del Mar said, referring to the discrimination faced by people who have a disability or are non-binary. “The conversation just stopped at pay people more,” Del Mar said of closing the wage gap, instead of “putting pressure on companies to change their policies.”

Pittsburgh’s Women and Girls Foundation is sponsoring Black Femme Excellence Co.’s event, and its Young Leaders Board is hosting a happy hour tonight at Wigle Whiskey to discuss pay equity. Twelve percent of drink sales will go to the nonprofit.

Closing the gap

There are three key policy areas to focus on when closing the wage gap, said Heather Arnet, chief executive officer of the Women and Girls Foundation: increasing the minimum wage for all workers, including those who are currently under the tipped minimum; increasing access to paid sick leave; and increasing access to paid family leave.

There’s only so much elected officials in Pittsburgh can do to move the dial on those issues, as the city is a second-class municipality that can’t dictate the actions of private businesses in most cases. Case in point: Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave law, which is currently tied up in court.

This year, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak passed an ordinance that requires for the creation of a Gender Equity Commission, and a law advanced by Councilman Dan Gilman prevents city government agencies and departments from asking about salary history.

On the state level, the Pa. Department of Labor & Industry is studying paid family leave models and programs, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Arnet, whose foundation is co-chairing the state’s paid family and medical leave campaign, said the results should be released in October or November.

After that, the foundation will work with the governor, legislators and agency directors “to develop a policy that will work for employers and employees,” Arnet said. In the five states plus D.C. that have paid family leave, that has taken the form of an insurance model, where a payroll tax levied on employers, employees or both contributes to a fund that workers can draw from.

That model “takes a financial burden off an employer,” Arnet said, while offering the benefit to all workers, regardless of whether the employer makes the choice to offer it.

But closing the wage gap isn’t something that can be solved through policy alone. Del Mar and the Black Femme Excellence Co. are also asking questions like, what sort of labor should be compensated? For her, that answer includes emotional labor.

Del Mar isn’t talking about paying for a friendship, where there’s a reciprocal relationship. Instead, she’s talking about the expectation that women — especially black women and femmes — give up their time and emotional currency for free. It’s a question that came up during the controversy over Pittsburgh’s sister march, when women involved with the march were asking those who raised concerns about the lack of inclusiveness to explain their legitimate concerns over and over.

“We tend to provide a lot of it and tend to write it off as part of life,” Del Mar said.