Issues + Advocacy

Until Latinas Have Equal Pay, It Doesn’t Exist

It's time to re-focus the narrative.

Photo by Victoria Benitez

This is the first in our two-part series on Latina Equal Pay Day (Nov. 20), which marks how many additional days into the calendar year Latinx women must work to earn the same amount as white, non-Hispanic men for the exact same labor.

In 1996 Equal Pay Day was created by the National Committee on Pay Equity with the purpose of bringing awareness to the pay disparity between men’s and women’s wages in the United States. The idea being that if men and women were paid equally for doing the same type of work, Equal Pay Day for all would be on December 31. But, since women are regularly paid less than men for doing the same work, the observance symbolizes how far into the next year women must work to earn what men earned the previous year. The problem with this formula is that it does not adequately represent the experience of black women, native/indigenous women or Latinas. 

Why Equal Pay Day Isn’t Equal

Equal Pay Day is always observed on a Tuesday, but the exact date varies, depending on women winning or losing cents to every dollar earned by men. In 2019, Equal Pay Day fell on April 2. In 2020, it will fall on March 31. But do these days actually represent equal pay? Absolutely not. What is being represented is the discrepancy between what a white non-Hispanic woman makes as compared to a white non-Hispanic man. 

Let’s Break the Disparity Down Even Further

On average, women in the United States are paid 82 cents for every dollar men are paid, but when you break down women’s earnings by race/ethnicity, it is plain to see that some groups of women are getting paid much less than others. 

  • Asian women make 89 cents on the dollar.
  • White non-Hispanic women make 79 cents on the dollar.
  • Black women make 62 cents on the dollar.
  • Native American and Pacific Islander women make 61 cents on the dollar.
  • American Indian and Alaska native women make 57 cents on the dollar.
  • Latina/Hispanic women make 54 cents on the dollar.

This wage breakdown makes it apparent that the date picked for Equal Pay Day isn’t actually equal pay day for all women. That’s why we also observe the following equal pay days this year:

  • Asian American women’s Equal Pay Day — March 5, 2019
  • Black women’s Equal Pay Day -— August 22, 2019
  • Native women’s Equal Pay Day — September 23, 2019
  • Latina Equal Pay Day — November 20, 2019

Admitting That Latinas Have it Worse Is Not Divisive

In the name of progress for all women, women of color are often asked to put aside their specific concerns so as not to pull attention from the larger issue at hand. This in itself is a form of discrimination if not outright racism. Not to mention that given that Latinas face the largest wage gap of any racial or ethnic group tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we are the larger issue at hand. After all, how can we even begin to talk about pay equity unless we consider the Latina pay gap upfront, since it’s the harshest one?

Explaining the Latina Pay Gap 

When trying to find explanations in general for the persistent wage gap between men and women, it is glaringly obvious that gender discrimination is at play. Especially when you take into consideration that male-dominated industries tend to pay better than female-dominated industries and that is due to a sexist legacy of devaluing women’s work. Don’t believe me? Then why is it that when large numbers of women step into a profession that was once male-dominated the wages for that occupation decrease? It is also important to note that the wage gap for all women, including Latinas, occurs across all industries, in all occupations and regardless of education level. 

What about Latinas? Why do Latinas experience the largest pay gap of all women? Because we are undervalued as women, people of color and specifically for being Latinas. It is bias stacked on bias stacked on bias. This is why it’s not enough to fight the pay gap between men and women, and why we also have to acknowledge the increased pay gap between women of different ethnicities in order to achieve true parity. 

Why Are Latinas Paid Less Than Any Other Group? 

When trying to solve a problem, it’s natural to first try and figure out what caused the problem. In the case of the Latina pay gap we can ask: 

  • Are Latinas paid so much less because there is implicit bias built into the system? 
  • Would Latinas be paid more if they were better at negotiating pay? 
  • Is it even fair to expect Latinas or any woman to have to negotiate equal pay for equal work when it should be a given? 

Those are all interesting questions, but let me suggest that we don’t have to answer them conclusively to know the answer to why Latinas are paid less than any other group. There is no justification for it. How can there be when despite experiencing the largest pay gap, Latinas are at the forefront of shaping culture and driving the country’s economy? We have the purchasing power of $1.7 trillion and a combined GDP in the U.S. that would land us as the 7th largest standalone economy in the world. We also drive business growth with the highest rate of new entrepreneurs.

This Isn’t a Latina problem, It Is a National Problem

If we really want to focus on pay equality, then Equal Pay Day should actually be observed on what is now Latina Equal Pay Day, because until those at the bottom of the wage gap totem pole reach equity, there is no equity. Period. 

Ana Flores is the founder and CEO of the #WeAllGrow Latina Network, an organization that elevates Latinas and Latina-owned businesses through the power of community.