Mind the Wage Gap: Women, Especially Women of Color, Still Earn Less than Men
The gender wage gap might not be as wide as it once was, but the cavern between what women and men are compensated for the same job Is still wide. And it’s even wider for women of color.
Women on the whole currently earn 82 cents for every dollar a man does, according to the Center for American Progress. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) point out that adds up to an average loss of $407,760 over a 40-year career.
Black women, meanwhile, earned 63 cents to the dollar. Latinas earned 55 cents, American Indian and Alaska Native women earned 60 cents. And Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women overall earned 85 cents for each dollar earned by white males. (That brings the 40-year shortfall for Black women, Latinas and Native women to roughly $1 million.)
Those numbers are from 2019 census data, but the pandemic has only made things more devastating. Women are overrepresented in careers that have seen massive job losses in the past year – fields such as restaurants, retail, and hotels. Approximately 93% of child care workers, 66% of grocery store cashiers/salespeople, 70% of waiters and waitresses, and 77% of clothing/shoe stores cashiers/salespeople are women, according to NWLC. And many of the workers in those jobs are women of color.
Frontline workers who have been so essential during the pandemic are not seeing wage parity either. The average median salary for a male nurse, for instance is $71,000 vs. $65,000 for women, despite the fact that 88% of all registered nurses are women. That’s a $500 shortfall per month.
“The unfolding impacts of COVID-19 reveal just how many communities of women, and the families that depend on their earnings, are bearing the brunt of the longstanding gaps and underinvestment in our workplace laws, economic and social infrastructure, and policy choices that failed to center the needs of women, people of color, and families with low and moderate incomes.,” said Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality and senior counsel at the NWLC in a blog post.
While there has been some progress at closing the wage gap, it has been slow. In 1969, women earned just 58.9% of what men did. Ten years later, virtually nothing had changed, with women taking home just 59.7% of a man’s annual salary. By 1989, that number had jumped to 66%, 72.2% in 1999, 77% in 2009. These days, it’s up to 82%.
March 24 was the annual observance of Equal Pay Day, a public awareness event started in 1976 that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men did in the previous year. As part of this year’s observance, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. held a hearing looking at the inequalities women of color face and to hear from witnesses. Among those was Megan Rapinoe, captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, who said "there is no level of status, accomplishments or power that will protect you from the clutches of inequity … One cannot simply outperform inequality or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind."
Later that day at a White House ceremony marking Equal Pay Day, President Joe Biden committed to fighting the wage gap, saying, "My administration is going to fight for equal pay. It’s about justice. It’s about fairness. It’s about living up to our values and who we are as a nation. Equal pay makes all of us stronger."
Don’t necessarily trust the next round of numbers, though, even if it looks like the gap is shrinking. Because so many women have been forced out of the workplace this year, whether through job cuts or because of childcare obligations, experts say the data will likely be skewed.
The NWLC says the gap improved by 3 cents on the dollar based on quarterly numbers in 2020, but that reduction only came about because there were more women out of the workforce altogether.
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