By now, that women earn 78 cents for each dollar a man earns has taken on the aura of cliche, a statistic thrown out as a way to quantify an ambient inequity that often defies definition. It's a helpful benchmark and a convenient talking point, but when discussed in a vacuum, it can obfuscate more than it illuminates.
Here's something that can illuminate. Recent data from the Census Bureau allows for the parsing of the gender pay gap by state, and the numbers reveal some lesser-known truths. Among them: the District of Columbia has the smallest gender wage gap in the country, with women earning 91 cents for every dollar a man makes. Pew Charitable Trusts recently reported similar statistics for D.C.
A new analysis by the National Women's Law Center, which separates the data by race, highlights a more disturbing pattern. When you compare what African-American women make to what white men make, the gap in D.C. is bigger than almost anywhere else in the country (with the exception of Louisiana). In D.C., while white women with college educations or higher typically earn close to what a white man does, African-American women make just 53.9 cents on the dollar.
Not that they're worse off on the whole than African-American women in other states. On the contrary, with a median salary of more than $48,000 a year, African-American women in D.C. are still better salaried than those in every U.S. state. What's skewing the results and making the gap so big is this: White men in Washington are doing supremely well. And so far, others haven't been able to catch up.