AAUW gender pay gap chart
The chart shows the 2009 pay gap for women
who graduated the year before with bachelor’s degree.
The column on the left shows the pay gap for those
working full-time one year after college graduation.
The column on the right shows the pay gap after
controlling for factors known to affect earnings.
As my colleague Laura Clawson wrote earlier this week, 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, 97 percent of women working full-time still earn less than their male counterparts. A number of reasons have been offered for this, but one of them is still, half a century after corrective measures were taken, outright discrimination.

Another round of proof came last October in a study by the American Association of University Women, Graduating to a Pay Gap. It showed, just one year after they obtained their diplomas, college-educated women were on average already making $7,600 less each year than their male counterparts. And that wasn't because they were having babies or because they all chose fields that were less lucrative. The reason for the lower pay was simply because they were female.

Over the past three decades, there has been improvement, a narrowing of the gap. As Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute points out, the median hourly wage for women in 1979 was 62.7 of the median for men. In 2012, it was 82.8 percent:

However, a big chunk of that improvement—more than a quarter of it—happened because of men’s wage losses, rather than women’s wage gains.

With the exception of the period of labor market strength in the late 1990s, the median male wage, after adjusting for inflation, has decreased over essentially the entire period since the late 1970s. Between 1979 and 1996, it dropped 11.5 percent, from $19.53 per hour to $17.27 per hour. With the strong labor market of the late 1990s, the median male wage partially rebounded to $18.93 by 2002. It then began declining again; at $18.03 per hour in 2012, the real wage of the median male was 4.7 percent below where it had been a decade earlier.

This cannot be blamed on economic stagnation. Between 1979 and 2012, productivity – the average amount of goods and services produced in an hour by workers in the U.S. economy — grew by 69.5 percent, but that did not translate into higher wages for most men. Over this period, the real wage of the median male dropped 7.6 percent. This is a new and troubling disconnect: In the decades prior to the 1970s, as productivity increased, the wages of the median worker increased right along with it.

Men with a high school diploma have fared worst, seeing their real—that is, inflation-adjusted—wages fall by more than 14 percent since 1979. And in the past decade, college-educated men on average have seen no real wage growth. Did the "benefit" from this situation go to women? No.

For years, it is true, women made pay advances from legal protections, from more education and from being more firmly attached to the labor force than in the past. But in the past 10 years, their wages have also fallen.

Shierholz attributes this to deregulatory policies, the Federal Reserve Board's making low inflation more important than full employment, the falling value of the minimum wage, the push for a stronger dollar that sends manufacturing jobs overseas and the weakening of unions. The latter, Shierholz declares, "explains about a third of the rise in male wage inequality (and about a fifth of the increase in female wage inequality) over this period."

Results: A well-known story. The most affluent have gotten better off at the expense of the rest of us, male and female.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 12:13 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

Your Email has been sent.