How wide is California’s wage gap? 2% of top earners are Latina; 38% White men, new data shows

How wide is California’s wage gap? 2% of top earners are Latina; 38% White men, new data shows

Despite increasing efforts to close California’s wage gap, women continue to make up the majority of low-wage workers in the Golden State, according to new data from the California Civil Rights Department, and the glaring disparities don’t end there.

Roughly half of all Latino, Black and Native American workers earned $32,329 or less in 2021 — $10,000 less than the state’s median per capita income. That’s compared to less than one-third of White workers and one-quarter of Asian workers statewide during the same year, with White workers holding the majority of executive jobs across the state despite comprising about a third of the overall workforce.

“It’s unfortunately no surprise that the latest pay data reinforces what we already know: Women and communities of color continue to bear the burden of low-wage jobs,” said California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who has advocated for a number of equal pay initiatives across the state.

The new data — which surveyed 7.3 million employees at private California companies with staff of 100 or more — mirror a longtime trend nationwide. Despite a surge of progress from the 1980s to early 2000s, the wage gap between men and women has all but frozen in the two decades since. Today, American women are still earning 82 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts, an increase of just two cents since 2002, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center.

Women in California fared far better than the national average. But even so, they still made just 88 cents for every dollar made by men. And according to the new data, 54% of all workers in California earning $32,239 or less in 2021 were female.

There are roughly as many Latinas as White men in the state’s workforce, at around 18%. But while White men comprise 38% of the top earners making $239,200 or more, Latinas make up just 2% of that group, according to the new state data.

The disparities were stark for all workers of color, no matter their gender. Only around 1% of Latino workers, 2.5% of Black workers and 3% of Native American workers earned $239,200 or more. Meanwhile, around 11% of White workers made that much.

Particularly striking was the fact that Latino and Hispanic workers represented 38% of California’s workforce — yet represented only 7% of those making the top salary bracket of $239,200 or more. The numbers were nearly as disappointing for Black workers, who comprised 6% of the workforce but just 2% of the highest earning group.

Meanwhile White workers — 33% of the overall California workforce — made up a staggering 53% of the top salary bracket, while also being much more likely to hold senior executive and management roles across the state. Latinos made up the largest share of laborers and service workers, at 69% and 54% respectively.

Those figures were similar to disparities reported in 2020, the first time the survey was conducted across the state.

“The latest employee pay data shows we still have work to do and, more importantly, shows exactly where employers need to make changes to improve the pay of women and communities of color,” said Lourdes Castro Ramirez, the state’s business, consumer and housing agency secretary.

For years, California has been pushing to close the wage gaps between men, women and communities of color, and increase wage transparency. New state legislation that took effect this year requires employers to publish salary ranges on their job listings. As part of that bill, employers with 100 or more staff — which were already required to submit data on how much they pay their employees — are also mandated to compile those reports with more detail, breaking down their staff by race, ethnicity and sex.

Tracking wage data is important, Kish explained, because reporting, analyzing and watching such data has been used as a tool to reduce wage gaps in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Denmark.

“We have an opportunity to use these laws around transparency,” Kish said, “And say, let’s (use this information to) close every possible disparity that we can.”

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The state has also deployed other measures to tackle the persistent wage gaps by encouraging major employers — from Apple to X — to sign the California Equal Pay Pledge. By doing so, more than 100 companies have now committed to conducting an analysis of their gender pay gaps every year and reviewing their hiring and promotion practices to ensure equity.

Despite such progress, the state has a long way to go. In 2020, wage gaps cost women a collective $46 billion in California alone, according to analysis from the California Budget & Policy Center, while causing people of color to forfeit another $61 billion for the same reason.

“California’s strong pay equity and transparency laws have put us on the right path,” Siebel Newsom said in a news release, “but we still have work to do to realize our shared values of equal pay and opportunity for all Californians.”