Citing 2005 income statistics for one small cohort of women and men — those in their 20s living in New York City — recent media reports have suggested that the "gender gap" is closing. This would be welcome news, were it true, but economic inequality, between genders as well as between races and ethnic groups, remains an important and continuing problem.
In July of 2007, The Howard Samuels Center issued a report, "The Economic Status of Working Women in New York," which analyzes U.S. Census 2000 data and concludes that white men reap the greatest rewards in the New York economy, with the highest earnings and lowest levels of unemployment of all gender/racial groups. Among New York City residents, white male full-time workers have median earnings of $50,000, while white women earn only $42,000.
Among black New York City residents, median earnings are $33,000 for men and $30,000 for women, while Latino men earn $28,000 and Latinas $25,000. Asians in New York City enjoy a rare level of equity, with both Asian men and women earning $30,000.
Some might see the small size of the gender gap among minorities in New York City as an indication of improvement, but the Five Boroughs are a unique place; gender gaps are much wider outside of New York City; in New York State, outside of New York City, the median annual earnings of men are $42,000, while women earn a mere $30,000. The gender gap is alive and well, as is a startling gap between white men and both men and women of other racial/ethnic groups.
The narrowing of the earnings gap between black women and black men can only be explained by racism. While the college enrollments of African Americans have been increasing, black women are far outpacing black men, with females accounting for 64 percent of black enrollments in 2004. Even though graduation rates of African Americans have been increasing, they are still at a dismally low 43 percent, with only 36 percent of black men who enroll in college graduating. (In comparison, white graduation rates are 63 percent.)
The low level of black male college enrollment and low graduation rates, one of the more important social and economic consequences of racism in America, are a serious problem in our society, a problem ignored by those who choose to see only the closing of the gap because of the selective progress of black women.
Some analysts using age as a factor have extrapolated that the equity experienced by 20-something New York City workers indicates that, in the future, as these workers age, the economic gap between men and women may be eliminated, with women who are in their 20s today going on to surpass their male counterparts in income and economic status.
The deeper analysis of the data found in the Howard Samuels Center study shows that it may be more logical to predict that these women, as they grow older, will get married, move to the suburbs, have children and also suffer and contribute to the gap. The data show that married men in New York State earn approximately $10,000 more than unmarried men, while among whites, Latinas and Asians, women who are married earn marginally less than their unmarried counterparts. Women in households that include children have lower earnings than those in households without children.
The Samuels Center report also shows that the gender gap is larger among residents of non-metropolitan areas. Unless there are significant changes in the roles of men and women in families, changes for which no evidence is yet apparent, the women in the 20-something New York cohort are not likely to maintain the earnings equity with men that they enjoy as unmarried young women living and working in the city.
A close reading of the data should give us no reason to believe anything has profoundly changed the economic status of women. The gap has not closed significantly and continues to advantage white men over everyone else in the society.