Today is Latina Equal Pay Day, and means that Latinas will have to work all the way to October, 21, 2021 just to make as much as their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made in 2020. A Latina would need to work until she is nearly 90 years old (eight years beyond her life expectancy) just to make the same amount that a white man earned by age 60, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Here are some ways the wage gap has impacted Latinas during the pandemic and beyond—and why it’s not a personal issue, but a national problem.
There is no safety net. According to research by Lean In and SurveyMonkey, half of Latinas have struggled to pay for basic necessities like rent and childcare over the last year. And half of Latinas have less than $300 to fall back on.
“We talk about the fact that Latinas make 57 cents on the dollar, but what is the real-world impact of that?” says Diana Ramirez, a 39-year old Latina from El Paso, TX, mother of two and a wage gap expert at the National Women’s Law Center. “My aunt, who became disabled at 59 years old after an encephalitis infection, didn’t have the safety net that she might have if there was not a wage gap. She had been a childcare worker, and later ironically cared for disabled adults, as well as helped babysit my children and my cousin’s children. She didn’t have savings. She didn’t have health insurance or other benefits such as a 401K. She didn’t make enough to pay into these things. So her family had to resort to a GoFundMe account that raised about $9,000 just to help pay for somebody to take care of her during the day while we all worked. I think of all the other women who don't have that safety net. This is how the wage gap affects Latinas’ every day lives.”
The motherhood penalty is real. Even before Covid began, Latina mothers were paid just 46 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers—even though more than six in 10 were primary or co-breadwinners for their families.
Ramirez also recounted how her 32-year old cousin with a master’s degree in occupational therapy, pregnant with her second child, was offered a lower-paying job with flexibility by her boss. “My cousin asked her boss if they would offer a lower-paying job to a man who was having a child,” Ramirez says. “This is very much discrimination, and so my cousin told her boss she was going to take the paid leave she was allowed, and come back to the same job with the exact same earnings she deserved.”
Women of color may be paying the highest motherhood penalty. “Part of what we need to solve this problem for Latinas and for other working mothers is treating childcare like the public good that it is,” says Emily Martin, Vice President of Education & Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “It’s recognizing that when we as a country invest in childcare, we make it possible for people to work and for our economy to grow, just like when we invest in roads and bridges. It also means ensuring the U.S. isn't the last wealthy country in the world to not provide any sort of paid family and medical leave.”
Latinas are over-represented in low-wage jobs. Latinas are twice as likely as non-Hispanic, white women to work in low-paying service jobs, such as in the food industry. Ramirez has been speaking with low-paid Latina workers across the country in her work for the National Women’s Law Center. The minimum wage for restaurant servers in many states is just $2.13 an hour, and so these workers rely on tips to make up the difference.
“There were reports all over the country of sexual harassment going up once restaurants reopened,” says Ramirez. “Men would say, ‘Take off your mask so I know how much to tip you. Take off your mask so I can see how pretty you are. Take off your mask so I can see if the top half of your body matches the bottom half of your body.’ The impact of the wage gap is especially apparent for tipped workers, and women and Latinas were forced to risk their lives and expose themselves for the chance of getting a tip in order to support themselves and their families.”
The wage gap impacts the economy for all. What does the wage gap for Latinas mean for families, for the workplace and our economy? “Latinas stand to lose over a million dollars over a career, and that is life-changing money that means they’re less able to build generational wealth to pass on to families and children,” says Martin. “It means they have lost thousands of dollars each month that could have paid for childcare, rent or student loans. That impacts not just individual Latinas, but entire communities. It means the economy doesn't have the benefit of those dollars that Latinas don't have to spend. When a Latina woman has to leave the workplace—because she just can't afford childcare anymore or when she's driven out of a job by sexual harassment—that means we don't have the benefit of her ideas and creativity and leadership. It lessens the pool of talent that we are all depending on to create innovation. These arbitrary barriers to success harm everybody.”
The data only reveals part of the picture. Though the latest figures look like the wage gap improved slightly, with Latinas making 57 cents on the dollar—up from 55 cents on the dollar last year—that’s not the whole story. “The 2020 wage gap data is complicated, because in addition to women leaving the workforce, really high unemployment rates hit Latino women disproportionately, with rates as high as 20% in April 2020,” says Martin. “It's also important to note that folks in lower-wage jobs were especially likely to lose their jobs in 2020. Some of that narrowing of the pay gap that we see is very likely because the people who are in the lowest paid jobs lost their jobs entirely and therefore aren’t counted in the data. What we don't have really good data on are the experiences of those half a million women and what led them to feel like they had to leave the workforce entirely. How are these women and their families doing in the absence of that income? It looks like progress, but actually it's just cutting the floor out of the folks who were in the most tenuous economic positions to start with.”
Put the right support systems in place. “We're in a moment of reckoning with so many things, but especially with Latinas, because it's not just about the money that we're getting paid. It’s also about the opportunities we’re denied and the support systems needed to get us back into the workforce,” says Laura Espriu, a Latina who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and who works in talent development and DEI at Twitter as well as spearheads a Lean In Circles Network focused on Latina women in the Seattle area. “Even if a job pays well, if your childcare costs are almost the same as your monthly income, women are going to be forced to make tough decisions. If we as a country could put our money where our intentions are—if we value women in the workforce, if we value the women who are taking care of our kids while we work—we're going to invest in high-quality childcare, early education, paid leave and a livable minimum wage. lt’s not just about the amount of money that is going in Latinas’ pockets, but also about the support systems in place to help them get those jobs and how this benefits us all.”
Article originally published in Forbes.