There are a couple of long-held truths when it comes to pay disparities: Blacks and Hispanics earn less than whites and Asians. Women earn less than men. But something strange happens when you combine gender and race: Black and Hispanic women, it turns out, do better when compared with their male counterparts than do Asian and white women.
The weekly earnings pay gap in the second quarter of this year was smallest for Hispanic women, who earned 94 percent of their male counterparts' wages, according to new Labor Department data. Black women earned 92 percent of black men's pay. White women lagged further behind at 81 percent, and Asian women earned just 77 percent of what Asian men earned.
But the data can be deceiving. Blacks and Hispanics have a smaller gender gap because those groups earn less overall and have less formal education than whites and Asians. They're stuck near the bottom of the the labor market where "things are more compressed," says Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research who focuses on employment and workplace-discrimination issues.
"The fact that the gap for white women and for Asian women ... is bigger than for Hispanics and blacks has a lot to do with college-level degrees," she says.
The better-educated workers get the kinds of jobs that offer bonuses and big salary increases, Hegewisch says. At the bottom of the labor market, there's not as much room for men to pull ahead.
The earnings disparities compound when you factor in race and then gender, according to an April IWPR report:
"The gender earnings gap is magnified by a race and ethnic earnings gap. For example, Hispanic women in management, business, and finance, earn only 86 percent of Hispanic men in these occupations, while Hispanic men earn only 69 percent of white men's earnings"
But it's not just education that's at play, Hegewisch says. Having a college degree doesn't eliminate the racial/ethnic gap, even among men.