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A Fair Day’s Wage For A Fair Day’s Work: Data’s Role in Fighting Pay Inequity

October 14, 2016
If there is one statistic everyone knows today, it is the wage gap. On average in 2013, women made 78 cents to a white man’s dollar for the same work, with black women making 64 cents and Hispanic or Latina women, 54 [1]. Pay inequity is widely regarded as a contemporary discrimination issue, and while litigious steps have been taken to address it, laws mean nothing without law enforcement.

By Alexandra Johnson


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the little-known law enforcement agency responsible for cracking down on pay inequity as a means of enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals against employment discrimination on the bases of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion [2].

EEOC was the offspring of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which was mandated by President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 on March 6, 1961. The EEOC as an independent federal agency was established on July 2, 1965 in order “to give life to Title VII,” as current Commission Chair Jenny Yang reminded the staff on the agency’s 50th anniversary last year [2]. EEOC is also responsible for enforcing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Sections 102 and 103 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) [3].  

Although EEOC appears in the news most often for cases they win in court or in settlement, it also focuses heavily on compiling and analyzing data in order to further explore systemic discrimination, usually through the Office of Research, Information, and Planning (ORIP) where I am employed this summer. This analysis is used to build stronger cases in defense of targeted parties as well as develop reports and resources to combat discrimination, such as a one-pager designed to help young workers better understand their religious rights in the workplace [4] and a report on anti-harassment efficacy [5].

My work this summer, like EEOC itself, is also the offspring of a presidential committee: President Barack Obama’s National Equal Pay Task Force. In January of this year, EEOC issued a proposal to start collecting pay data on the Employer Information Reports (EEO-1) from federal contractors with 50 or more employees, and from private employers with 100 or more employees, recommending the W2 form to do so [6].  At the recommendation of the task force, EEOC commissioned the National Academy of Science to determine the optimal mechanism of collecting pay data in order to improve the agency’s ability to understand the ful scope of the wage gap. NAS concluded that the best mechanism was through an addendum to the EEO-1 [6]. The Department of Labor and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) joined EEOC on this proposal, which, if approved, would require human resource information systems and payroll to be integrated by January 1, 2017 in order to capture the calendar year 2017 data [7]. The data will be captured in 12 paybands, from $100-$15,999 to <$70,000 with 10 paybands of increments of $5,000 in between.

This data collection is imperative to closing the wage gap. The question of how many dollars to pin to a certain amount of labor has frustrated political economists and wage gap activists for years, given the myriad of factors that can influence employers’ conceptions of how much an employee ought to be paid. For instance, women are more likely to take time off to have or care for a child, which abbreviates work experience, hurts attendance records, and can represent the simple opportunity cost of advancing onself in the workplace, whether through making meaningful contributions or simply logging more hours. The wage gap also manifests itself through the lack of access to education, which is highly correlated with race. In 2013, twice as many White Americans as Black Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 had bachelor’s degrees [8].

But the most devastating aspect of pay inequity is the sheer lack of knowledge. More than 40% of the gender wage gap is “unexplained,” meaning that research has not yet identified – if it ever can – any obvious measurable reason for pay disparities [9]. This question mark is why ORIP’s long-term data work and this new proposal are absolutely integral in the fight against pay inequity. If it is impossible to address the root causes of the wage gap because they are unknown, the next best way to combat pay inequity is to gather as much information about it as possible, so that it is at least possible to identify the injustice when it happens. Without detailed knowledge of how much protected classes are paid in comparison to their counterparts, it is borderline impossible to prove they are paid less.

Once the new proposal is confirmed and the pay data are collected, the product of my summer will come into play. I have been building a statistical application for EEOC to analyze pay inequity within a job group (e.g., Technicians, Service/Maintenance) between a focus group and a comparison group. Each focus group and comparison group is a race, gender, or race/gender combination, making it possible to compare Men to Women, Asians to Hispanics, White Men to Black Women, etc. The application runs a Wilcoxin rank-sum test, which essentially sums the number of focus and comparison group members within each payband and produces a p-value of 0.0 to 1.0, which represents the chance that the data would arise if both groups were paid equally. 0.5 is the bright line, p-values below which are considered statistically significant. This application will be used to provide necessary further insight into pay disparities in particular industries and occupations, build a more robust assessment of discrimination complaints, and hopefully, be used in EEOC’s Office of General Counsel when it comes time to take an instance of pay discrimination to court.



  [1] Fisher, Milia. “Women and the Gender Wage Gap,” americanprogress.org. Apr. 14, 2015. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2015/04/14/110962/women-of-color-and-the-gender-wage-gap/.

  [2] [Online] Available: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/50th/index.cfm. [Accessed: Jul. 25, 2016]. 

  [3] [Online] Available: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/index.cfm. [Accessed: Jul. 25, 2016].

  [4] [Online] Available: https://ustice.gov/crt/file/877936/download. [Accessed: Jul. 25, 2016].

  [5] [Online] Available: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report.cfm. [Accessed: Jul. 25, 2016].

  [6] [Online] Available: https://www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/1-29-16.cfm. [Accessed: Jul. 25, 2016]. 

  [7] Smith, Allen. “EEOC Digs In with Its EEO-1 Pay Data Proposal,” shrm.org. Jul. 18, 2016. Available at: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/pay-data-eeoc.aspx

  [8] Casselman, Ben. “Race Gap Narrows in College Enrollment, But Not in Graduation,” fivethirtyeight.com. Apr. 30, 2014. Available at: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/race-gap-narrows-in-college-enrollment-but-not-in-graduation/

  [9] F. D. Blau and L. M. Kahn,  “The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women Gone as Far as They Can?” Academy of Management Perspectives 21, no. 1, pp. 7-23, 2007. [Online] Available: JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4166284. [Accessed: Jul. 25, 2016].

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