Fighting for Women's Equality

Tackling the Latina Wage Gap

November 1, 2016 | by

10 months. 20 bi-monthly paychecks. Approximately 43 weeks and 1,720 work hours.

That is how much longer the average Latina has had to work in 2016 just to earn what the average white man earned in 2015. In other words, Latinas employed full-time, year-round, must work almost two years to earn what white men earn in just one. 

Today, we mark Latina Equal Pay Day—the very last Equal Pay Day of 2016. But this is no holiday. As the latest census figures show, the overall gender wage gap for women remained virtually unchanged from last year: it sits stubbornly at just under 80 cents on the dollar when you compare the median annual earnings of full-time working women to those of full-time working men. The gender wage gap is so stubborn, in fact, that at the current progression, it will not close until the year 2058. 

And the situation is worse for women of color. While Black and Native American women face substantial gaps, Latinas in the United States face the widest gap of them all—earning just 54 cents on the dollar when you compare their average annual earnings to that of white (non-Hispanic) men. When you compare their wages to those of white women, the numbers do not improve much—Latinas earn just 73 cents for every dollar earned by white women. And in California, the state that consistently has paved the way for progressive, worker-friendly laws, and where Latinas comprise 4 out of every 10 women in the state, the Latina wage gap is the worst in the country—43 cents to every dollar earned by white men.

Latinas in the United States are the sole or primary breadwinners for nearly three million households, 40 percent of which (1.2 million) live below the poverty level. Without the wage gap, those numbers would be drastically different. In fact, if the wage gap between Latinas and white men were eliminated, Latinas working full time year-round could buy about 3.7 years’ worth of food for their families. They could pay for approximately 12,342 more gallons of gas. Or 27 more months of rent. 

The causes of this wage gap are not hard to identify. Almost one-third of Latinas employed in the United States work in the service industry, where wages are notoriously low and stagnant. At the same time, Latinas and other women remain grossly under-represented in higher-paying, traditionally male-dominated fields like the construction trades, even though 2015 saw the highest growth rate in the construction industry since 2005.  On top of that, pay secrecy perpetuates low wages and prevents workers from enforcing their rights to equal pay. 

That is one reason why Equal Rights Advocates and our partners pushed for the passage of the California Fair Pay Act of 2015. The law, which took effect on January 1st of this year, prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for inquiring about or discussing their pay and will go a long way toward promoting more conversations – and greater transparency – about pay. And beginning January 1, 2017, California’s equal pay law will get even stronger: As the result of Senate Bill 1063 (Hall), which Governor Brown signed on September 30, the Fair Pay Act will be extended to prohibit unequal pay between employees of different races or ethnicities who do substantially similar work. For Latinas, these new protections will not only help to close the wage gap between them and their male counterparts; they also will help to address disparities between them and their non-Latina female peers. This will make the law a much more powerful tool to ensure fair pay for Latinas working in female-dominated fields, where male comparators simply may not exist. 

Even with these promising legislative developments, however, we still have a long way to go in closing the gender wage gap and making sure that all Latinas have access to economic security and opportunity. After all, these laws mean nothing if no one knows about them and no one actually enforces them. I am proud that Equal Rights Advocates is taking the lead on implementation and enforcement efforts related to the Fair Pay Act (you can find our Know Your Rights materials on the Fair Pay Act in English and Spanish), and I look forward to spending much of the next two years as ERA’s Equal Justice Works Fellow working to ensure that Latinas and other women across the state know their rights and are not afraid to exercise them.

You can help too. Join our mailing list to stay informed. Read our report on the last fifty years of pay inequality. And tell your representatives in Congress to vote for legislation that will close the wage gap.

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