It's Equal Pay Day...what does that mean for women of color?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

By Lisa Russ

Today is an important day. It is called (by some) Equal Pay Day and symbolizes how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010 in the United States. Click here for a good OpEd about it by Linda Meric, the Executive Director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.

Using numbers for the "average" woman, she puts the pay gap in perspective:

The pay gap is evident in almost every occupational category, in every income bracket; it's a constant despite education, despite experience. The National Women's Law Center found the gap represents $10,622 a year, with which a family could: buy a year's worth of groceries ($3,210); arrange for three months of child care ($1,748); pay three months of rent and utilities ($2,265); cover six months of health insurance ($1,697); pay down six months on a student loan ($1,602); and purchase three full tanks of gas ($100).

While overall, full-time, full-year working women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, the wage gap is even larger when you look at women of color. African-American women earn 61 cents and Latinas earn 52 cents for every dollar a white non-Hispanic man earns.  So....Latina women need to work 18 months to earn what men earn in a year.  How many bags of groceries and months of child care does THAT wage gap represent?

What does this mean for women of color? 

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), if equal pay for women were instituted immediately, across the board, it would result in an annual $319 billion gain nationally for women and their families (in 2008 dollars). Over her working life, a typical woman could expect to gain a total of $210,000 in additional income if equal pay were the norm (these numbers include part-time workers).

According to the National Committee for Pay Equity, those numbers are more like $420,000 for African American women and $510,000 for Latina women.

How far could $510,000 go toward getting a kid through college, medical school, and even helping out with a down payment on a house?

These pay gaps don't just effect us in the present with the groceries and utilities...they work themselves through the generations, and have a huge influence on how parents can, or cannot, save for retirement,  or even help their kids launch into their own lives.

As the social safety net shrinks, each illness or opportunity in our life represents another time that access to a several thousand dollars can make the difference between moving forward and falling terribly behind.

We need to end the wage gap now, and we need to end it in a way that strengthens and protects us all.

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