News about the Latina pay gap is about to overtake the social media platforms, and, unfortunately, it will only tell part of the story. You will hear that the gap has closed by two cents — from 55 cents to 57 cents, but this is not completely accurate.
When it comes to Latina Equal Pay Day, people are often confused about what the pay gap actually is for a Latina worker. Some articles you will read will say the gap is 54 cents, others will say 55 cents, and the discrepancy goes on, whether due to different methods of calculation or the use of outdated data. Well, based on the most recent data from 2020 salaries provided by the Current Population Survey, Latinas are paid an average of 57 cents to the dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic male workers. What’s problematic here is not only the number, but also the way it’s calculated. The existing data overlooks a significant segment of Latina workers that should be considered part of the sample.
The key problem this year is that the pay gap calculation is based on reported income for Latina women who continued to work throughout the pandemic. It fails to account for the more than 5.5 million women workers that were forced out of the labor market in 2020. Out of these 5.5 million women workers, over 1 million were Latinas who had to leave the workforce either because they got sick, someone that they loved got sick or because they had to care for other people, like school children whose schools abruptly closed.
Many women workers were employed in jobs that did not offer them the privilege of paid leave time off, scheduling flexibility or a remote work option. In 2020, just 8% of workers making less than $14/hour had access to paid family leave. The lowest paid workers make up the majority of laborers who were pushed out of the labor market. Because these women were simply not working, there was no workforce data to represent them in the recent pay gap calculations. Consequently, the result was a calculation that was based on the earnings of mostly higher paid workers.
It takes us almost 22 months to “catch up” to what white, non-Hispanic men were paid in just 12 months.
People are also often confused about why the National Latina Equal Pay Day of Action is not the same date every year. This day changes annually because it is determined by how much money a full-time, Latina worker was paid, on average, in the prior calendar year. In other words, the day would be observed on the date a Latina catches up to the wages made by a white, non-Hispanic man the year before. This year, Latina Equal Pay Day will be observed on October 21, 2021.
I have been working to close the pay gap for nearly two decades and have called out the fact that we cannot tell the full story because there are so many people whose situation is not reflected by the data, as explained above. It is likely that the situation is far worse for certain groups of women in our country. And, we aren’t just guessing. When pulling apart the data, we know this to be true. For example, according to a research report from the National Women’s Law Center, Honduran women make even less than half of what white, non-Hispanic men make.
Let’s face it: the pay gap for Latinas has not moved much for decades. But, the data does not represent all women workers or even all Latina workers. It only represents those who were employed full-time and year-round. This means that the data does not count Latinas who are working part-time, as gig workers, or whose income is not being reported to the federal government. The existing data set is most likely missing many undocumented Latinas. Furthermore, because of the binary nature that the federal government uses to track data, the current pay gap does not reflect the experiences of non-binary community members and is likely not reflective of transgender community members‘ experiences either. We also don’t have a full understanding of the economic reality of Afro-Latinas or community members who identify as Indigenous and Latina, or who are multi-racial of any background.
Prior to the pandemic, Latinas were already on course to lose more than $1 million in income – income that we have been denied because of gender pay disparities. The National Women’s Law Center reported that it would take us more than 400 years to earn what a white male earned in a normal 40-year career.
We can’t yet see the full picture of the devastating consequences of having millions of women, including Latinas, forced to stop working because of the global pandemic. We don’t know how long it will take these Latinas and other women to return to full-time work. We don’t know whether they will be able to get jobs that are as good or better than the ones that they had before the pandemic that provide all of the rights and protections that are required.
What we do know is that Latinas and our families have suffered the costs of the gender pay gap for decades. The pay gap impacts our ability to have what we need to live our lives with security. It impacts our ability to pay for our children to go to college, to save for the future, and to have confidence that we will have the financial footing to retire one day. The situation was bad before. It certainly has not gotten any better, and due to the grave impacts of the pandemic, the situation is likely worse.
Do not let the data fool you. While it might be from a trusted source and accurately report its findings based on the information that was available to make this calculation, it is not truly reflective of reality. As Latinas, we know the truth. We live this truth — when we don’t have enough money to pay for rent, when we can’t save for a rainy day, and when we have to contend with our growing student debt.
Our lives — our present and our future — require that we demand more. We demand Congress to act by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Raise the Wage Act, as well as adopting provisions that support caring for children, all loved ones, and ourselves, including by adding a pathway to citizenship, in the Build Back Better Package. We demand data that demonstrates the full experience of Latinas in this country, including from the nonbinary, transgender and immigrant communities. We demand businesses to implement equitable hiring practices, keeping in mind the impact that the pandemic has had on Latinas and women being pushed out of the workforce.
We call on each of you to join us as we push for these changes and demand accountability from political leaders, as well as from all employers. Whatever you do, embrace the call to action of our hero and teacher Dolores Huerta: “don’t sit on the sidelines.” We expect just conditions and equity — for all of us. We will not settle for less.
Mónica Ramírez is an attorney, author, and activist fighting for the rights of farmworkers, migrant women workers, and the Latine(x) community. She is the founder of Justice for Migrant Women and co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, The Latinx House, and Poderistas.
Mónica has received numerous awards, including Harvard Kennedy School’s first Gender Equity Changemaker Award, Feminist Majority’s Global Women’s Rights Award, the Smithsonian’s 2018 Ingenuity Award and the Hispanic Heritage Award. She was named to Forbes Mexico’s 100 Most Powerful Women’s 2018 list and TIME Magazine included her in its 2021 TIME100 Next list. Mónica is also an inaugural member of the Ford Global Fellowship. She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Women’s Law Center, Friends of the Latino Museum and she is a member of The Little Market’s Activists Committee. Mónica lives in Ohio with her husband and son.
Justice For Migrant Women alongside Equal Pay Today! Coalition will be hosting The National #LatinaEqualPayDay Virtual Summit: Seeding Change & Demanding More on Thursday October 21st at 1pm ET. You can tune in on the organization’s Facebook page and follow their socials @mujerxrising for more info.