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Equal Pay Day: Why This Day Looks Different for Women of Color

This year, Equal Pay Day — which symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year — will fall on Tuesday, March 31. In reality, however, this date only represents what women as a whole earn; and for most women of color, this date will fall much later in the year. 


Ein Beitrag geteilt von Skye Gould (@skyegould) am

On average, white women make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. In contrast, Black women make 63 cents, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women make 62 cents, Native American women make 58 cents, and Hispanic women make 54 cents. And, while women as a whole are estimated to reach pay parity in 2059, Black women will have to wait until 2130 for equal pay and Hispanic women until 2224.

How the wage gap influences the cycle of poverty

In the U.S., women are 38 percent more likely to live in poverty than men and half of all households with children under 18 have a breadwinner mother. In addition to gender, however, racial disparity also plays a role, leaving women of color experiencing poverty at much higher rates than white women.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the wage gap translates into an annual loss of $21,698 for Black women, $24,007 for Native American women, and $26,403 for Hispanic women. One reason for this disparity is that women of color are particularly overrepresented in low-wage jobs. In 2017, 8.6 percent of white workers were paid poverty-level wages. In contrast, 14.3 percent of Black workers and 19.2 percent of Hispanic workers were paid poverty wages. 

By providing equal pay to women, the poverty rate for all working women would be cut in half, falling from 8 percent to 3.8 percent. The number of children with working mothers living in poverty would also be cut in half, dropping from 5.6 million to 3.1 million. For Native women in particular, who suffer from chronic disease, poverty, and education gaps at much higher rates, and who are murdered at rates 10 times the national average, pay equity could be the difference between becoming a statistic and being able to end the cycle of poverty and violence.

When the glass ceiling meets the bamboo ceiling

In contrast to other women of color, Asian women actually have the smallest wage gap — they earn 87 cents for every dollar paid to their white, male counterparts. This creates its own problems, however. 

Because of their apparent success, Asian women are often ignored by diversity programs, even though the wage gap is highly uneven among Asian subgroups. 

Because of this, Asian women face a “bamboo ceiling” that keeps them from career advancement: they are the least likely demographic in the U.S. to be promoted from non-manager professionals to executives.

In addition to the “model minority” myth, the combination of racial and gender stereotypes, as with other women of color, harm an Asian woman’s chances of professional advancement. For example, the stereotype of the “tiger mom” can cause Asian women to be seen as too intense or aggressive. On the other hand, the infantilization of Asian women can make them seem too submissive to be good leaders. It’s a no-win situation.

Who should bear responsibility for fixing the wage gap?

Congresswoman Deb Haaland recently outlined in an op-ed on CNBC that employers are not the ones held responsible for ensuring equal pay for equal work. Instead, the burden is placed on women to “negotiate” for their wages, even when men are able to enter the workplace with higher offers for no other reason than their sex. However, with only 5 percent of the pay gap attributable to unexplained salary differences, it doesn’t seem like negotiation on its own will do much good.

According to the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, correcting gender-based pay inequities alone would close 68 percent of the gender wage gap. This means taking action to eliminate subminimum wages, provide paid time off for family and medical leave, and provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and motherhood, all of which require lawmakers to join the discussion. At the federal level, Congress recently passed the Paycheck Fairness Act aimed at closing loopholes within the Equal Pay Act. It is yet to be seen if the bill passes the Senate, however, especially given that it has failed before. 

With 53 percent of Americans not aware of the pay gap between Black women and White women, let alone the wage gaps among other ethnicities, it’s important to bring awareness to the fact that Equal Pay Day does not accurately represent everyone. This year, let’s celebrate Equal Pay Day by challenging stereotypes, checking our biases, and supporting new legislation to bring pay equity for all.

Xandie Kuenning is the Career Editor at Her Campus and a graduate of Northeastern University with a Bachelor's in International Affairs and minors in Journalism and Psychology. She is an avid traveler with a goal to join the Travelers' Century Club. When not gallivanting around the world, she can be found reading about fairytales or Eurasian politics, baking up a storm, or watching dangerous amounts of Netflix. Follow her on Instagram @AKing1917 and on Twitter @XKuenning.
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