The Status of Public Sector Pay Equity for Women of Color in the United States

Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
AuthorCatherine C. Reese
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2019, Vol. 39(4) 594 –610
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X18761123
The Status of Public Sector
Pay Equity for Women of
Color in the United States
Catherine C. Reese1
Research by Reese and Warner and Llorens, Wenger, and Kellough assesses the
relative pay of women in the United States. However, research on the relative pay of
women of color remains scant. What kinds of factors predict relative pay for women
of color, and are they the same as for White women? The author utilizes ordinary
least squares (OLS) regression on an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) panel data set on public sector employment by state to analyze the pay of
Black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian women relative to men for 2005-2013.
The author reaffirms that whether a woman lives in a state that has implemented
a major gender pay equity measure is a significant factor determining her relative
pay. Furthermore, the intersectional nature of public sector pay for women of color
is numerically verified. Women fare better in states where they are descriptively
represented in terms of gender and race/ethnic group.
gender, pay equity, equal pay, state and local government, equal pay for women
The purpose of this research is to begin to assess the condition of pay equity for women
of color. Pay equity for women was an issue about which both major U.S. presidential
candidates spoke in 2016 ( The Women’s march that was held world-
wide on January 21, 2017, emphasized pay equity, among such other issues as
1Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA
Corresponding Author:
Catherine C. Reese, Professor of Public Administration, Master of Public Administration Program
Director, Department of Political Science, Arkansas State University, P.O. Box 1750, Jonesboro, AR
72467, USA.
761123ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X18761123Review of Public Personnel AdministrationReese
Reese 595
domestic violence, reproductive rights, and immigration reform. President Obama’s
first act in office back in 2009 was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law,
indicating the significance he placed on the issue of pay fairness. The issue of gender
pay equity is salient, and publicly acknowledged, but little attention has been given to
the status of pay equity for women of color.
Reese and Warner (2012) show that women in the public sector are paid more fairly
compared with men than women in the private sector, that a significant predictor of
women’s pay is whether the state where she lives has enacted a pay equity measure or
not, and that women in the southern part of the United States are paid more fairly in
relative terms than others. This study seeks to replicate and extend that study to encom-
pass an analysis of the wage gaps for women of color; specifically, I wish to explore
and further analyze wage gaps for African American, Hispanic, Asian, and American
Indian1 women employed in the subnational public sector in the United States.
The pay situation for women of color is often relegated to the proverbial footnote
in wage studies. Independent research groups, such as the (now defunct) Women of
Color Policy Network at New York University (NYU) Wagner and the National
Committee on Pay Equity publish policy briefs on the subject. There has been some
academic work in the area as well, notably Cornwell and Kellough’s (1994) analysis
of federal pay; however, I am unaware of any recent similar work on state and local
government pay equity for women of color. Therefore, my central research questions
revolve around the status of public sector pay for women of color in the United States.
More specifically, what factors can be identified that predict public nonfederal pay
for women of color?
Literature Review
Why Do Women of Color Earn Less Money?
Many of the reasons women of color—apart from Asian women, that is, who some-
times earn more than males—may make less money are the same reasons that women
in general make less money. For example, for many years it was true that women in
general did not earn wages equal to those of men because they lacked the similar
requisite qualifications, particularly education (Alkadry & Tower, 2006; Kelly, 1991).
In 1970, only 11.2% of women were college graduates; by 2010, this figure had risen
to 36.4% (U.S. Bureau of the Census, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).
Six percent more males than females had college degrees in 1980, but by 2010, 32%
of women had college degrees, while only 24% of men do (U.S. Bureau of the Census,
National Center for Education Statistics, 2016). The educational attributes of women
of color have similarly improved in recent decades. In 1970, 4.3% of Hispanic
females and 4.6% of Black females had college degrees; by 2010, these figures had
risen to 14.9% and 21.4%, respectively (U.S. Bureau of the Census, National Center
for Education Statistics, 2016).
Also, women often leave the workforce to have children (Correll, Benard, & Paik,
2007), are positionally segregated (Alkadry & Tower, 2011; Cornwell & Kellough,

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