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54 cents. That is how much Latinas earn to the White man’s dollar. Often it is recited that women earn 77 cents, but that is the figure attributed to white women. In reality, Latinas fare far worse when it comes to income disparity; in states like California and Texas, which compose of the largest amount of Latinas working full-time and year-round, they earn a dismal 43 cents to the dollar. The negative impact of wage disparity reaches beyond the individual worker and spans generations. While in theory, most Americans agree that women deserve to be paid equally for equal work, the fight to lessen the wage-gap encounters visceral backlash.
Critics of the income equity fight refuse to accept that the wage gap exists and often fail to acknowledge the impact of systemic sexism. They claim the gap isn’t real and that if women are paid less it is because they opt to work in lower-paying fields. Or they point to how some women choose to stay home to take care of their children, which takes them out of the workforce. These contentions ignore the reality that women are often discouraged from pursuing degrees in STEM, which prevents them from entering those higher paid industries. Further, these arguments ignore how the pressure to abide by gender roles has long-lasting financial impact on women. Yes, women may opt for “pink-collar” jobs or pause careers to take care of their family, but those choices are not made in a vacuum. The pressure we place on women to do womanly work, to care for families, to not have too high of career aspirations is absolutely a cause of the wage gap, but that says more about us as a country than it does about a woman and her choices.
Further, the argument that the wage gap isn’t as prevalent as one thinks has no merit. The wage gap exists in all industries. Study after study (and lawsuit after lawsuit) shows that the wage gap is not just real, but seemingly best practice within American businesses. Recall how Hollywood actresses made the news a few months ago when they demanded pay equal to their male counterparts. Let this sink in: producers paid Natalie Portman, an academy-award winner less than Ashton Kutcher for their movie, “No Strings Attached.” Last summer, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, who are three-time World Cup Champions, sued the Soccer Federation for the almost unbelievable wage gap between them and the Men’s team. Beyond celebrities and athletes, women with professional and medical degrees are also paid less than their male coworkers.
It may be difficult to feel empathy for women in fields that pay so richly. Obviously, a celebrity, athlete, or your average successful doctor will likely not feel the pinch of the wage gap, but their experience shows us that being underpaid is a universal truth for all women regardless of success. However, if you want to see the real financial ramifications that occur when women aren’t paid fairly then you need look no further than your own family.
In the U.S., three million households are headed by Latinas and 40% of those households live below poverty. How many of us can count our own families in those statistics? Most of our mothers worked because they had no other choice. They had no power to negotiate wages and eagerly took what was offered in order to put food on the table. Consider, then, how would your mother’s life change; how would your childhood have changed, if she earned nearly double her wage? If the wage gap were eliminated a Latina would be able to afford an additional 193 weeks of food, or 17 months of additional mortgage and utility payments, or 27 months of rent. That is life-changing.
Frankly, we should all be furious about this loss. Think about how much you could contribute to your retirement if you were paid equally. Or the ability you would have to invest and create wealth. Those are all things we lose out on when we’re not paid equally. And it’s not just the women that are impacted negatively by the gap. Male partners of women would obviously benefit in a dual income household if both partners were paid fairly. Our children would have access to more opportunities if our finances were stronger. This is a hit on our community as well. When we’re not paid what we’re due, we are not able to flex our economic or political capital. Monetarily, we are limited in what we can purchase or donate; this means we aren’t able to support causes, communities, or businesses as strongly as we would like.
Many may be quick to assume that if women just negotiated their salaries then the disparity would be fixed. While women should be encouraged to negotiate, there is more to this issue. First, we should encourage salary transparency in all fields. Salaries and wages are considered something private and never to be shared, but this cultural norm allows for employers to continue the wage gap because no one ever knows if they’re truly being paid their worth. If you can, share your salary information with your coworkers in an effort to inform. Second, support Unions. Unions often create pay scales and other formats to ensure there is equity in salaries regardless of gender. Finally, know your rights and be willing to enforce them. No one aims to be litigious, but if you realize there are serious discrepancies in your pay compared to your male coworkers, then you should consider either obtaining legal advice or come to terms with the huge financial loss you may incur for the rest of your career.