Unfinished Business

Latinas Still Experience an Unacceptable Wage Gap

By Maryrosy Araujo

Todo el trabajo, la mitad del pago. All the work, half the pay.

Today, November 2, is Latina Equal Pay Day – a call to action for equality for Latina women and a day to acknowledge the egregious wage gap that Latina workers and their families continue to face. All women of color are affected by the wage gap, but Latinas are particularly affected: for every dollar a White, non-Hispanic man makes, a Latina woman makes only 54 cents.

The gender pay gap is more than just a statistic – it affects real women and real families. For many people, hearing the difference in cents does not resonate, but concrete examples illustrate the real damage that the gender pay gap causes in terms of perpetuating and increasing income inequality for women of color. Latinas would be making $26,095 more on average each year if there were no gender pay gap. This adds up to 3.7 years’ worth of food for their families, approximately 12,342 more gallons of gas, or 27 more months of rent each year. This amount of money could allow a Latina and her family to rise above the poverty line or jump from one socioeconomic tier to another.

Latinas deserve equal pay for equal work. In the United States, three million households rely on Latinas as breadwinners, and 40 percent of these women and their families live below the poverty line. The driving causes of this large wage gap are easy to pinpoint, yet challenging to combat. For instance, many Latinas are immigrants with limited education and English skills, forcing them to work in low-wage jobs.

Almost one-third of Latinas employed in the United States work in the service industry, which includes hotel housekeeping. This occupation is saturated with Latina employees, and because of multiple factors, including the social class, gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, and immigration status of many Latina hotel housekeepers, they are vulnerable to workplace abuse and economic exploitation from unscrupulous employers and co-workers.

According to a study of Latina housekeepers, “Policy-related phenomena, such as low pay, lack of paid sick leave or overtime, and absence of appropriate cleaning tools or protective equipment were all perceived as forms of mistreatment by Latina hotel housekeepers.” Research by the UCLA Labor Center suggests that hotel workers are victims of tip stealing, and employers often do not pay them for the overtime they work. The study also found that “the very highest minimum wage violation rates were for female unauthorized immigrants.”

Low wage working women are not the only women who face the gender pay gap. Although college graduation rates for Latinas have increased faster than for any other group of women, they continue to be disenfranchised and paid less than their male counterparts as professionals. Latinas must obtain a bachelor’s degree or more before their typical wages exceed those of white, non-Hispanic men with no college degree. Simply pursuing education is not enough, then, to eradicate the Latina gender pay gap.

November 2 is not a day to celebrate. Today is the last Equal Pay Day of the year – 10 months into the calendar year – because Latinas have to work 22 months to earn the wages that a White, non-Hispanic man makes in only 12 months for the same work. And that needs to change.


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