03 Dec 18
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Women working in Santa Clara County are paid just 62 cents for every $1 their male peers get, the largest gender income gap in the Bay Area and the third largest in California.
Less than 50 miles north, women in San Francisco County are paid 83 cents for every $1 men make, according to data on median wages for employed workers 16 and older from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey.
That gap between the two counties is significant: It means the median wage for women working in Santa Clara County is about $14,600 less annually than it is for women working in San Francisco. For men, it’s a different story: Their median wage in Santa Clara County is $300 more annually than it is for men working in San Francisco.
So how did the county whose largest city was dubbed “the feminist capital of the world” back in the 1970s end up with such a large gender pay gap? That’s not entirely clear.
Stephen Levy, director and senior economist at the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, said he doesn’t have an explanation.
Only two other counties in California have a larger gender wage gap: Madera and Lake. In Alameda and San Mateo counties, women make 78 cents for every $1 men are paid. In Contra Costa County, women are paid 70 cents for every $1 their male peers make.
Louise Auerhahn, with the labor think tank Working Partnerships USA, said the disparity may be driven in part by differences in which industries men and women work coupled with the fact that Santa Clara County’s population is more diverse than San Francisco County’s.
“We have a segment of very well paid jobs and a very large segment of low paying jobs,” Auerhahn said. “Many women, and especially women of color and immigrant women, are in that low-paid sector.”
The highest-paid jobs in Santa Clara County, according to the data, are in computers and mathematics, where the median annual wage is $126,200. Women in that sector make 76 cents for every $1 men are paid. But women make up only 22 percent of the workers in that highly paid sector, a challenge tech companies have been working for years to address.
Meanwhile, working women make up 81 percent of the Santa Clara County workers in health care support, which has an annual median wage of $36,400. In that sector, women earn 84 cents for every $1 male peers earn.
Auerhahn analyzed census data and found Hispanic women face the largest income disparity in the county. They have a median annual wage of about $25,300. That’s 28 percent of the median annual wage for white males in Santa Clara County.
“We’re a very diverse county, and some of the groups that predominate here tend to have a larger wage gap, not so much with men of the same ethnicity but a gap compared with white men,” she said.
Santa Clara County is 26 percent Hispanic and 31 percent white, according to the census, while San Francisco County is 15 percent Hispanic and 40 percent white.
Auerhahn said that’s why efforts to increase pay for low-wage workers could help close the gender gap. She pointed to a 2016 study from the University of California Berkeley that found that increasing the minimum wage in Santa Clara County to $15 an hour would affect 36 percent of working women, compared to just 27 percent of working men. Sunnyvale and Mountain View reached a $15 per hour minimum wage this year. San Jose, Los Altos, Cupertino and Palo Alto increased their minimum wage rates this year to $13.50 per hour — part of plans across those cities to bring the minimum wage to $15 by 2019.
Cindy Chavez, vice chair of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said she wants county government to take a proactive role in addressing gender pay disparity, using strategies that include peer mentors.
“Pay equity and this wage gap is a problem that belongs to everybody, and that’s why it’s so incumbent upon government to take a leadership role in resolving it,” Chavez said.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”curated” curated_ids=”5702529,4948753″]Last year, the Board of Supervisors approved recommendations to improve pay equity in county government jobs and among county contractors. The county also adopted a policy that allows it to disqualify any potential contractors who have violated pay-equity laws in the previous five years.
“I’ve never seen, in my adult life, women so ready to change that dynamic,” she said. “So this is an exciting time to be part of the women’s movement.”
Still, it likely will be an uphill climb. In the past three years, Santa Clara County’s gender disparity has actually grown, from 67 percent in 2015 to 62 percent in 2017.