Why We Cannot Take The 2020 Wage Gap and Health Insurance Data at Face Value
Every September, the National Women’s Law Center analyzes national wage gap, poverty, and health insurance data from the previous calendar year by gender, race, and ethnicity, among other characteristics. This data comes from the Current Population Survey (CPS) collected by the Census Bureau.
Compared to previous years, the data will reflect the highly unusual and chaotic nature of 2020—like job losses—due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, the timing and questions used by the Census Bureau severely complicate the use of the data.
In order to accurately address wage gaps, poverty, and lack of health insurance in a timely manner, the Census Bureau must improve their data collection. It should be released earlier in the year, rephrase questions to reflect true gaps in health insurance coverage, and better capture respondents’ identities.
We Can’t Compare Wage Gap Data to Previous Years
Data on wages, and ultimately the wage gap, is crucial to show how women—particularly women of color—continue to be underpaid for their work compared to men in the same occupations.
Wage gap data is calculated for people who worked full time (35+ hours/week) and year-round (50-52 weeks) in the previous calendar year. With the job losses during the pandemic, fewer people met these conditions.
Additionally, Since women of color are more likely to work in lower paying jobs, they are more likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Removing them from these calculations gives the appearance that the wage gap has shrunk for women of color.
Wrongly Phrased Questions About Health Insurance
The Census Bureau only considers people uninsured if they lacked health insurance for the entire year. This means even if someone had insurance for only one month in 2020, they are considered to have health insurance in 2020. Not only is this misleading, but it also disguises the true number of people lacking health insurance.
Due to the great number of workers that lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, we would have expected to see decreases in health insurance coverage. However, when taking a closer look, it is likely that those who lost their jobs were primarily low-paid workers who may not have had employer sponsored health insurance to begin with.
Without accurately collecting data on the number of uninsured people, we cannot begin to address the issue and aid populations lacking health insurance.
Late Release of Data
The Current Population Survey (CPS) data released every September reports figures on the previous calendar year. In other words, the data Census just released is for 2020, and was released 9 months after the end of 2020, and 6 months after data collection in March 2021. The lag in data release obstructs the opportunity to address wage gap and other disparities in a timely way.
We need the Census Bureau to improve their data collection to allow for greater chances to focus on wage gaps, poverty, and health insurance gaps for the populations that require our attention. They must collect their data earlier in the year, like January or February, rather than March. This would allow the results to be released quicker, giving us the space and time for a call to action and solutions.
Without accurate and timely data, our opportunities to begin to discuss closing the wage gap, decreasing poverty, and increasing health insurance coverage become slimmer. This is no longer a matter of if we can do better with data collection, but rather a necessity that we must do better to address the health of continuously underserved and undervalued populations in this nation.
Read the National Women’s Law Center’s 2020 data on wage gaps, poverty, and health insurance here.