Today Is Latinx Women’s Equal Pay Day. Here’s Everything To Know About The Pay Gap, Explained
October 29th is Latinx Women’s Equal Pay Day. But what is Equal Pay Day, and what does it mean for the state of the gender and racial pay gap?
Equal Pay Day is the average of how many extra days into the year women would have to work in order to earn as much as men did in the previous year. The exact date fluctuates every year depending on how long it takes women to “catch up” to men’s earnings. In 2020, All Women’s Equal Pay Day was on March 31st.
But observing Equal Pay Day as one day, or one flat number – the 82 cents women currently make for every dollar a man does — presents an incomplete picture. The gap narrows or widens depending on race, occupation, whether you were born in the U.S., and much more.
Today, October 29th, is Latinx Women’s Equal Pay Day. Think about how far away March feels now, when All Women’s Equal Pay Day was observed. It took until almost the end of the year for Latinx women to earn the same amount white men had earned by December 31st, 2019.
What Is Equal Pay Day?
Beyond March 31st, these are all the demographically specific Equal Pay Days throughout 2020:
For AAPI women, it was February 11.
For Black women, August 13.
For Native American women, October 1.
For Latinx women, October 29.
These dates offer only the broadest view, though, and the gaps may actually be worse than they appear. The numbers only take into account earnings for full-time workers, and are calculated using Census data. “The Census gives us a limited picture, because the way it's framed has made some communities very fearful of participating,” says Shannon Williams, director of Equal Pay Today (a project of Equal Rights Advocates).
The story becomes more complicated the more we zoom in. For one, the pay gap differs from state to state and city to city. “Even within the different disaggregated groups within these communities of color, it varies,” says Williams. “For example, Latinx Women's Equal Pay Day is at the end of the year. But for some groups of Latinx, it’s even past that.” Latinx women from Central America, for example, make around 47.3% of what white men make.
There are other groups that remain underrepresented in discussions of equal pay — such as, “women who have different kinds of barriers to pay equity or discrimination in the labor market,” says Dr. C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). “So we're focusing on formerly incarcerated women, transgender women, and immigrant women whose voices also get drowned out of these conversations.”
Formerly incarcerated women are not only paid lower wages; they're much more likely to be unemployed. Pay-gap data for trans women is scarce, but one oft-cited study found that their paychecks shrank by about a third after they transitioned. Immigrant women also earn less than native-born women in America, and a 2015 study found that 20% earned less than a living wage.
October 29th — Latinx Women’s Equal Pay Day
Latinx women have to work almost a whole extra year to earn as much as white men do. “They're losing $2,400 every month just to the wage gap,” says Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). “And that doesn't even account for those who have been shoved out of the workforce, who have lost their jobs.”
Using that math, over a 40-year career, a Latinx woman would be robbed of $1,121,440. While the wage gap for Latinx women is said to be 55 cents for every dollar a white man makes, in some states, it’s much worse: in California, it’s 42 cents for every dollar. That means Latinx women essentially have to work 33 years longer than white men, retiring past their nineties. Those living in cities or the suburbs face a larger gap than those living in rural areas. The pay gap has remained nearly unchanged over the past few decades.
But all of this calculus was done before pandemic. “Latinx women were struggling to make ends meet before this crisis,” Tucker says. “But now we have hundreds of thousands of them out of the workforce. We have one in nine who are unemployed, we have nearly three in ten that's a frontline worker.”
Good jobs that pay well, provide necessary benefits, and don’t pose an undue danger have become even scarcer now. With so many people out of work competing for the same few jobs, Tucker expects that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women will face discrimination in being hired.
The existing pay gap for Latinx women also means many can’t afford to wait for more government relief. “Why don't we have any relief for these people?” asks Tucker. “We have one $1,200 check that's supposed to last for seven months. The wage gap has robbed them of the savings that they could have had to weather this storm.”
Being much less financially secure overall, Latinx women may be more likely to accept the first low-paying, potentially dangerous job they may be offered during the pandemic. “Whereas their white peers and especially their white male peers are going to hold out,” Tucker says. “They have the money, they have the savings, they have a financial cushion.” Latinx women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs, many of which we have come to call essential jobs. According to the NWLC, over 22% of “janitors, building cleaners, maids, or housekeepers” are Latinx women.
Childcare is another issue at the forefront of economic inequality. Latinx women face an additional wage penalty if they have children, making only 46 cents to a white man’s dollar. Latinx women make up a disproportionate number of child care workers, yet often struggle to afford or access child care themselves. “It's remarkable, the huge gap between how expensive it is to put a child in a daycare facility and how they pay their workers pennies,” says Tucker. “We really have to look at ensuring access to childcare. We have done all of these small business loans — to companies that are not actually small businesses — and we’ve done nothing for the child care industry.”
Tucker suggests we think of these numbers — 55 cents compared to a full dollar, a lifetime loss of over $1 million in earnings — as not just numbers. “That's an account for all of these missed opportunities that [a Latinx woman] has to invest in herself,” she says. “What if she was able to buy a house? What if she was able to put her kids through college and make sure that they didn't have any student loan debt?”
“This is the time. If we're gonna make the change, it's now,” says Tucker. “When else are we going to do it?”
October 1st — Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day
Native American women earn, on average, only 60 cents for every dollar white men earn. This means a white man usually earns almost $25,000 more a year than a Native American woman, which according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, could pay for around 16 extra months of health insurance premiums. The NWLC calculates that this wage gap is akin to losing $2,055 a month.
The gap is wider for some Native American women than others. Yaqui women, for example, typically make only 46 cents for every dollar white men do. Native American women are also massively overrepresented in difficult, low-wage work. Despite being about 0.3% of the whole workforce, they make up 0.9% of personal care aides, home health aides, and nursing assistants, in which the median hourly pay for Native American women is $11.54. According to the IWPR, Native American women have the lowest median wages in Nebraska, earning $26,000/year on average compared to white men’s earnings of about $51,221/year.
Among Native American mothers, 58% are breadwinners — meaning they are either the only source of income for their household or contribute at least 40% to the household’s income, facing even greater consequences due to the pay gap. In contrast, about 49% of all households with children have breadwinner mothers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Native Americans have been hit particularly hard by job loss, with the unemployment rate rising to 26.3% in April. Even before the pandemic, Native American unemployment was much higher than white unemployment. In 2018, when the overall unemployment rate was about 3.9%, the Native American unemployment rate was about 6.6%.
A big data gap is another persistent obstacle to understanding and addressing the economic injustice Native American women face. It’s difficult to enact targeted policy measures when the picture remains incomplete. Too often, statistics and data on wages and employment (as well as in other areas, such as COVID-19) don’t include Native Americans at all, or don’t provide a disaggregated breakdown for Native Americans.
August 13th — Black Women’s Equal Pay Day
Black women earn 61.8 cents for every dollar a white man earns. This ratio plummets to just 50 cents for Black mothers — and Black mothers are more likely than any other group to be breadwinners, with 74% either being the sole earner or contributing at least 40% to the household earnings.
Over the course of a 40-year career, this pay gap means that Black women lose $941,600 compared to white men. In Washington D.C., this lifetime wage gap expands to about $2 million. Some of this staggering gap is due to what kinds of jobs Black workers and white workers hold. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the most common jobs for Black workers are “cashiers, janitors and building cleaners, secretaries and administrative assistants, miscellaneous managers, and security guards and surveillance officers.” Meanwhile, the most common jobs for white workers in the capital are “judicial workers” — such as lawyers and judges — as well as “miscellaneous managers, management analysts, and postsecondary teachers.”
Like other non-white workers, Black women have faced much higher incidences of job loss due to COVID-19 compared to white men. The deep pay gap that Black women face compared to white men is another reminder of how racism and economic inequality are often inseparable, one feeding into the other. The COVID recession is an especially unequal one, but the Great Recession foretells just how long-lasting the effects may be for Black women. Even as late as 2018, median income for Black families had not caught up to pre-Great Recession levels. As of August, white women had gained back 61% of the jobs they’d lost, but Black women had recovered only 34% of lost jobs. In September 2020, the unemployment rate for Black women was 11.1%. For white men, it was 6.5%.
Black women have also been playing an outsize role in essential jobs during the pandemic. An analysis by the NWLC found that 11% of COVID-19 frontline workers are Black women, despite the fact that they make up only 6.3% of the overall workforce. They make up 26.1% of personal care aides, home health aides, and nursing assistants.
February 11th — AAPI Women’s Equal Pay Day
Asian American and Pacific Islander women have the smallest pay gap of any demographic, including white women. This group makes around 90 cents for every dollar a white man makes, a higher ratio than the overall gender wage gap of 82 cents.
But there are enormous differences in AAPI women’s pay gap by ethnicity. Nepalese women, for example, earn just 50% of what white men do. Fijian women earn around 55 cents; Hmong women, around 61 cents. Based on 2015 data, poverty rates for Burmese, Bhutanese, and Hmong Americans were 35%, 33.3%, and 28.3%, respectively. The overall U.S. poverty rate then was 15.1%. On the other end of the pay gap spectrum, Malaysian American women earn 25 cents more than white men (though they still make less than Malaysian American men). It shows the limitations of aggregating data for a big, diverse population into one number.
These stark contrasts are partly due to Asian immigration history. Asian immigration to the U.S. was effectively banned from 1882 to 1965, when immigration quotas based on national origin were eliminated. Modern immigration policy created a selection bias for “model minority” Asian Americans who could obtain a work visa in well-paying, highly specialized fields (such as tech) or a student visa for those able to afford American universities. Such immigrants are more likely to come from affluent backgrounds and be proficient in English, which in turn impacts access to economic opportunities and inclusion in data.
AAPI groups that entered the U.S. through other paths often have a vastly different experience — and are more likely to be excluded from data. AAPI are the least likely demographic to participate in the U.S. Census, and most wage gap analysis uses Census data. Low participation is driven by factors such as a high proportion of AAPI having limited English proficiency and fear that the Census would be “used against them.”
Debunking Gender Pay-Gap Myths
So, why does the pay gap exist? Some people completely deny its existence. Others downplay it, or blame it on the poor choices of individual women, deflecting focus from the systems that put women at a disadvantage. Ahead, we looked into why their arguments don’t hold up.
Myth 1: Women aren’t negotiating well
This myth deals with direct pay discrimination, which is a major contributor to the pay gap. Maybe the problem is that women simply aren’t asking for higher pay, critics say. “That's not the case,” says Williams. “Women ask for raises just as often as men. We're just less likely to receive them.”
She also takes issue with the fact that this argument puts the onus on women, and Mason agrees. “We're removing responsibility from the employers to do the right thing,” she says. Should women have to ask to be paid equally before the idea occurs to employers?
Myth 2: When you control for education, there’s no pay gap
This myth suggests that when women attain higher levels of education, the gap disappears. Nothing about this is true. “We still see, within gender and race, wage gaps for women with postgraduate degrees, law degrees, medical degrees,” says Williams.
In fact, the pay gap is generally lower between men and women who have only a high school diploma. This is partly because they’re more likely to have lower-paying jobs, where the minimum wage sets a narrower pay range. In higher-paying jobs, there’s more room to pay women less. A study published in 2018 by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that Black women with bachelor’s degrees earned, on average, less than white men with associate’s degrees. When it comes to master’s degrees and higher, the gap between white men’s annual earnings ($124,000) and Black women’s ($69,000) amounts to a loss of $55,000 every year.
Myth 3: Women choose to work less or take time off
This is true on its face — women work fewer hours than men, and we’re more likely to be the primary caretakers of children. Women also need to take paid time off for pregnancy, and having children results in a notable decrease in wages. These are all barriers to participating in the workforce at the same rate as men.
But the fact that women face these barriers doesn't justify the pay gap. It only shows how the workforce is still structured as if men are the only people working. “We know that the workforce has changed so much and that women make up more than 50% of the workforce,” says Mason. “But we still act like this is the 1950s, where men are the primary breadwinner.” Among Black mothers, 80% are breadwinners in their family — meaning they are either the only earner or earn at least 40% of the household's income. The pay gap doesn't just affect individual women; it has a great impact on whole households. Unless the solution is to expect no one to have and raise children, it’s on employers to provide better paid family leave and flexible work for both men and women.
Myth 4: Women choose low-paying careers
This myth implies that if women were smarter about the demands of the labor market, the wage gap wouldn’t exist. We’d all get STEM degrees or work in finance or law, or become Hollywood actors and professional (male) athletes. “You're assuming that because I chose a particular profession, I deserve to be paid less,” Williams points out.
The service sector, home care and child care, early education, and social work are among the lowest-paying industries in the U.S. They also all happen to be women-dominated. An astounding 89% of nursing, psychiatric, and home-health-aide occupations are filled by women. To suggest that women — often women of color — are making poor choices by performing essential service-sector and health-care work is especially absurd now, when we see them on the frontlines of a global pandemic.
The question isn’t why women are choosing these jobs; it’s why anyone pretends that these positions don’t deserve better pay. Often, women in these sectors are working below the poverty line. According to IWPR findings, about 62% of maids and housekeeping cleaners and 58% of fast-food preparers and servers “live in households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold.”
“Women’s work” — whatever that exactly entails — is seen as unimportant. Why else would industries start paying less as they become women-dominated? Occupational segregation remains a formidable enemy to equal pay, and even when women do enter male-dominated fields, they aren’t welcomed with open arms. Male software developers make an average of $1,920 per week, but women in this field make only 89.5% of that. Among chief executives (72.9% male), women make about 80.5% of what men do. “They face a number of different barriers, which also includes lower pay than men in those sectors, but also harassment and discrimination,” says Mason.
How Can We Close The Pay Gap?
Both Williams and Mason say that legislation and policies are key. Securing better labor protections in general, like raising the minimum wage, would shrink the pay gap. “States that have a high gender pay gap are also states that are less likely to have pro-union policies or regulations,” says Mason. In the absence of unions or pro-worker policies, “there’s no accountability for employers,” she says.
In 2018, the states where the pay gap was widest were Mississippi, West Virginia, Idaho, Louisiana, and Alabama. “They actually have very hostile policies around worker rights and pay,” says Mason. All of them have “right-to-work” laws, which can prevent unionized shops from requiring new employees to join the union, and also prevent unions from requiring employers to hire only union workers. These laws blunt the power of unions and tend to result in lower wages.
Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would also go a long way. Among other things, it would bar employers from using your salary history to determine your wages and from retaliating against you for discussing your pay. “This would really help close all the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act,” says Williams. After all, we can encourage individual women to be transparent about their pay, but it’s difficult to create a movement out of it unless every state has laws protecting your right to pay transparency. Mississippi, for example, currently has no equal-pay laws.
But it’s not just labor laws that would help close the gap. “When we look at the bottom states, especially Alabama and Mississippi, we can see that there's clear attacks on women's reproductive autonomy, which influences the careers they choose to go into, their experiences in the workplace, and whether or not they'll face workplace discrimination because of pregnancy,” says Mason.
Ultimately, the wage gap isn’t an issue that can be summed up with just a quick quote about women making 82 cents of a man’s dollar. It’s an enormous economic injustice — which amounts to 18 cents, often more, being taken from women. “This is money missing for women to put food on their tables, especially for single working mothers, to pay rent with, health care, send their kids to college with,” says Mason.
“My daughter, who's 10, and her daughter won't see pay equity in their lifetimes as women of color,” she continues. “That's two generations from now — come on. I think that we need to really start being proactive and seeing this as an urgent issue.”
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