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Paycheck Gender Gap BY DEBORAH LUTTERBECK ECENTLY PUBLIC attention briefly focused on the University of Pennsyl vania, where a white male freshman called a group of black women “water-buffalo.” The university moved to charge the student with a “crime against diversity,” then dropped the matter after widespread public ridicule. Shabby manners, it seems, will remain unregulated. In any case, though it is unfortunate, but perhaps not criminal, that that juvenile white men can exercise their constitutional rights to insult black women, it is a far greater misfortune that when those black women receive their college degrees they will be earning less money than white men with no more than a high school diploma. By the cold light of statistical facts, black women earn 64 cents for each dollar earned by a white male. For all women, regardless of color, that figure is about 70 cents, up a full 10 cents since 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was enacted. A black woman with a college degree earns an average $26,333 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A college-educated white woman earns an average $27,840 a year compared with the college-educated white male who earns a $40,624 average. Women with college degrees barely outearned men with only high school diplomas, who earned $26,790, according to census figures. From out of this welter of numbers, a particularly appalling pattern emerges: The gender-based disparity in wages frequently increases in proportion to amount of education that is required for a particular job. For example, a female cashier will earn 95 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart. For attorneys, that figure drops to 78 cents; for doctors it falls to 72.2 cents; and for female financial planners it drops to 62 cents per dollar of salary paid men in similar positions, according to estimates from the Bureau of Labor statistics. s These figures are especially disturbing, given that more women are earning college degrees than men: Quantitative gains in education have not translated into increased earnings for women. Instead, these waves of diplomaed women are being used to supply an expanding market for cheap but well-educated labor. In the wake of last year’s focus on the country’s collective pocketbook during the presidential election, women’s economic issues might be coming back in vogue. Within the Deborah Lutterbeck is a New York-based writer on economic issues. first few months of the Clinton Administration, progress has already been made in some of the crucial social areas affecting women, on issues like abortion rights, family leave and funding for breast cancer research. These encouraging signs suggest that over the next four years women’s economic issues may finally get serious attention. But equal pay is still all too infrequently the issue that takes center stage in the national debate on women. Advocates of women’s economic advancement have grown entirely too accustomed to taking a back seat to self-esteem and cultural issues. Women seem to expend more energy fighting for the right to feel good about themselves than for economic gains. It .was thus not too surprising that during the Reagan-Bush doldrums the best-selling books on feminine topics bore titles such as Women Who Love too Much, and Smart Women, Foolish Choices. The personal had become the political in the worst way. Women’s advocates, rather than organizing broad-based political movements, called for the creation of grassroots support groups to help women find happiness. In recent years, the public debate about women’s issues has celebrated the frivolous. The questions too often center on whether Madonna is a real feminist or Camille Paglia is the new Voltaire. While such topics make for interesting drawing room debate, they obscure the more fundamental women’s issues relating to pay, health and political power. Of course there are the exceptions. In Dallas, the Rainbow chapter of the National Organization of Women has helped set up a credit union, which will attack a very fundamental type of discrimination. As Karen Ashmore, one of the founders of the credit union, explains, it is through this type of activity that major changes begin. Ashmore describes the story of a black woman who grew up with 13 brothers and sisters in a four-room house in West Dallas and was employed at a nonprofit organization. She needed a car. Her only option was to buy a used car at a high interest rate. The car was in such disrepair that she spent more fixing the car each month than making her car payment. She fell behind and the car was repossessed. “And then she came to the credit union for help,” Ashmore said. “When she explained the situation to us, we saw that she was hardworking and that she was honest but a bank would never have given her a loan with a repo on her record. We saw that she was a victim of circumstance and race and gender and we believed in her and we approved a loan for her to buy a new car.” When the women later returned to the credit union, it was for a loan for appliances for a house she had bought, Ashmore said. This is the root of real change and meaningful power. Such stories are all too often overlooked by news media. Intead, we read stories about the academic world, which never consider that equal earnings outside the university are as important as an equal share of the curriculum. During the last decade, the campus rage over “gender-inclusive curricula” occurred, in part, because the academic world was one of the few places where women could make real advances. Unfortunately, debates about feminist curricula that focus on educational values often seem to ignore the value of an education. While higher education is a fine thing in itself, it is also, in these days of spiraling tuition, a major investment. For women, the return on that investment remains much lower than it is for men. Despite all the hype about career women, according to a study released by the UCLA Graduate School of Management and Korn/Ferry International, a corporate recruiter, in the country’s 1,000 largest corporations less than 5 percent of the top managerial positions are filled by women or minorities. That is up from less than 3 percent in 1979. In the Federal Reserve System, which controls the nation’s banking system and has a major influence on money supply and interest rates, there are similar figures. The House Banking Committee found that of the 72 highest ranking positions within the Federal Reserve system, only three were filled by women. Of course, during a series of Republican administrations that blocked virtually all major gender-specific legislative initiatives, women were left with little to focus on but trivia. We are now, of course, in the decade of the woman. And, while it is all too easy to get cynical about such labels, in fact the political climate for women is far more favorable than it has been in the past. President Bill Clinton, with the signing of a few executive orders, changed the debate about access to abortion from a question of rights to a question of terms. And the Family Leave Act, which was vetoed twice during the Bush Administration, was signed into law by President Clinton on February 4. At the highest levels of the Administration there are now women shaping legal, economic and environmental policy, and reforming the entire health care system. One need THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11