Today we mark the 52nd anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy. The law supposedly ended gender-based pay discrimination, a major legislative step forward for women in the workforce that was 20 years in the making.
It should be a day of celebration. And we do pause to recognize the strides that American women have made in the workforce, serving as CEOs, generals, and astronauts. And we recognize that women’s salaries relative to men’s have risen dramatically since the passage of the Act, from 62 percent in 1979 to 82 percent in 2013.
But maybe hold off on the parties for now. Because American women still make just 77 cents for every dollar that men make. Because that pay gap persists across almost every occupation and educational level. Because that figure is even worse for women of color. African-American women earn 64 cents and Latina women earn 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.
In North Carolina, Latinas can’t even afford the confetti and balloons to celebrate their so-called equality. Latinas earn only 46 cents for every dollar that white men make, making North Carolina the sixth worst state in the nation. For the more than 70,000 Latinas working full-time, that is a wage gap that amounts to $26,000 lost each year from their family income.
That is real money for North Carolina families. An extra $26,000 could buy:
- 9,874 gallons of gas
- 33 months of groceries for a family of four
- 2 years of rent
The implications are very real and very serious for Latinas’ families. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, 40 percent of married Latina mothers bring in half or more than half of their families’ income. Their families are dependent on these women’s earnings to get by and to get ahead. In addition, 2.8 million households in our country are headed by Latinas, and the wage gap can push single moms and their families into poverty. The median wages for Latinas in North Carolina ($22,456) is below the poverty line for a family of four ($24,250).
One reason that these women feel the wage gap so acutely is their overrepresentation in low-wage jobs like housekeeping and restaurant work. Latinas make up 15 percent of the low-wage workforce but just 6.6 percent of the overall workforce. Compare those figures to those of white men, whose share of the low-wage workforce is just 15.9 percent although they make up 35 percent of the overall workforce. Even in these low-wage jobs, Latinas are paid just 78 cents for every dollar that white men earn.
So, there are many wishes left to be fulfilled as we blow out the candles on the Equal Pay Act’s birthday cake. We wish that Congress would get its act together and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. We wish that Latinas would receive the support they need to access better jobs for their families. We wish that we would improve educational opportunities for Latinas and make college more affordable so that these women – and their daughters – have a chance to realize the American Dream.
Let’s work together and turn these wishes into reality. And next year, here’s hoping we have reason to celebrate.
Sara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.