New app examines economic gap


Screen captures from EquiTable

While a heated conversation about race and economic equality is at a boiling point, a new app for smartphones has come up with a creative solution on how to cool the waters.

EquiTable is a Silicon Valley born app that claims to split bills fairly based on current census data, taking into account ethnicity and the current wage disparity.

Luna Malbroux, EquiTable’s creator, is a comedian with a local San Francisco talk show and is also an anti-bias consultant who works with companies and schools to train people in the realm of bias and identity. The app was initially made for Comedy Hack Day, an event where app development gurus and comedians team up to make hilarious technological innovations, and soon it became a tangible idea.

“I learned as an anti-bias trainer when you talk about things dead on, people put up a lot of defenses,” Malbroux said. “Having that experience (as an anti-bias trainer), I tend to use humor as a tool as much as possible. I heard about Comedy Hack Day that brings comedians and developers together, and I was really excited about the idea of pitching an app. The idea kind of came to me, one thing specifically that I realized as an anti-bias trainer, is that gender is the first place to start because it’s the easiest place for everyone to understand.”

The app splits the bill at a diverse table according to actual average wage gap earnings that are present in the country. The data are taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and implemented in a simple percentage calculation. The app then takes into account all people dining and divides the bill at a dinner table based on those inequities, with the minorities on average paying less due to the fact statistically that economically minorities make less money.

Screen captures from EquiTable
Screen captures from EquiTable

“We put in actual earnings, what figures say is the wage gap issued,” Malbroux said. “For example, Latina women make on average 53 cents on the dollar compared to what a white male makes. For black women it’s 54 cents on the same dollar – not the same pay for the same work. I just used those statistics.”

The app has caused mixed reviews on the SF State campus, with students having a much less racial perspective on dining. Heather Rutz-Leighton, a journalism major and San Francisco bartender was unsure about the bill splitting app.

“I don’t agree across the board that in every situation the white man is going to make more than the black woman. I feel like if you go out to eat the bill should be split based on what each person orders,”  Rutz-Leighton said.

The app was released March 16. Since then, tensions have flared at SF State after an argument over dreadlocks in the Cesar Chavez Student Center went viral. The video ignited a racially driven conversation on campus.

Felicia A. Viator, an SF State assistant professor in the history department who also has a background in African American History was intrigued by the development of EquiTable. She felt as though the app succeeded in peaking interest and had potential to get a meaningful conversation about race and income disparity.

“I think it’s a unique way for people to get a real world person lesson to the kinds of disparities the app is talking about,” Viator said. “Things are abstract. People sometimes talk about statistics, and we know that women make less than men, we know that people of color generally make less than whites, and this seems like a good way to bring it close to home. It seems like the perfect way to start a meaningful conversation, and not just one based in stats.”