Latina Equal Pay Day: How Race Plays A Role In The Gender Wage Gap

Nov 2, 2017

The gender wage gap in the United States hasn’t changed much: On average, women overall still make 80 cents for every dollar a white male makes during a year. But this gap widens when women are broken down by racial group.  Latina Equal Pay Day is November 2--which raised awareness for the widest gap out of all racial groups.

After 22 months of work, Latinas in the United States have earned the same amount of money that a white male makes in one year. Latina Equal Pay Day is November 2 to highlight that disparity. 

Broken down by race, minority women—African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinas—not only face the gender gap, but also the racial pay gap.

Latinas in the United States on average make 54 cents for every dollar a white male makes. In Illinois, that number is even lower at 48 cents on the dollar, according to a report by the  National Partnership for Women and Families. 

Experts say this wage inequity for Latinas can be over many factors: from language barrier, low level of college completion, and even high student debt. Some Latinas in the workforce may be first generation children tackling the workplace for the first time.

“I’ve been learning a lot on my own—and any time I have the chance to pass that information down to other women, other Latinas, I do that," says Adriana Diaz,  who works in the non-profit sector in Chicago. She recounts a time when she was unable to negotiate a salary early in her career because this was all new to her. "I think about that situation all the time because if I knew what I know now--then, I would have definitely negotiated.”

Her prospective employer had inquired about her previous salary, which was already a low number for the type of work she was doing.  And because her salary had been disclosed to her new employer, "they felt they had enough ammunition to offer me just a little bit more than what I had been making…I didn’t end up negotiating, but I really needed the job," she says.

And for those Latinas without a college education, low-skill jobs—which are usually low-paid—can be the norm. 

Lubia Nunez-Montelongo has worked with Latina women in several Chicago communities helping them find jobs, access to affordable health care and access to affordable food. Many women came to her with similar stories of struggle.

“We got a lot of Latinas who told us about their experiences with temp agencies," she says," and they felt like they were being taken advantage of because for one, that was the job that they found it didn’t require too many things, that didn’t require a resume. They just had to show up."

Workers in temp jobs don't receive a fixed schedule and many women felt they were being taken advantage of, says Nunez-Montelongo. "They would have to pay for transportation [and] they couldn’t spend too much time with their families."

Experts on the topic as well as community organizers ask: What must be done to not just end the gender pay gap but also the racial pay gap?

Kate Nielsen who is state policy manager for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Washington, D.C., says there are several things that must be addressed first in order for the racial pay gap to end.

"There are many factors that contribute [to the pay gap]," she says. "Raising the minimum wage, providing adequate paid leave, providing affordable child care, and making sure that all of these different things are accessible to the workers who need it, would really go a long way.”

Iliana Mora, CEO and president of Women Employed, a Chicago advocacy group for women and equal opportunity, agrees. She says ending the Latina pay gap can be significant long term and beneficial for all women and society.

"What that means is that the average Latina working full-time, year-round, that equates to having enough money for them to have three additional years of child care or to have the full cost of tuition for a two-year community college or 3.7 years’ worth of food for them and their family. And that is a change that we need to make...all women together," she says.

While the federal government has stalled on addressing some of these factors, the Illinois legislature has made several attempts.

This year, measures tackling the gender wage gap have been considered, including one prohibiting employers to ask about previous salary history. Another measure would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

Both measures passed the legislature, but were vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner. Supporters are hoping for overrides during this month’s veto session. The salary history measure has received bipartisan support, while the minimum wage measure may be stalling until further discussions take place.

For measures like these, organizations like Women Employed and the AAUW have been strong supporters. They know that while not the immediate solutions to the problem, such proposals can "make a dent" in the gender wage gap--especially for Latinas.

But if and until that happens, Latinas like Adriana Diaz—who have experienced wage discrimination— say building a support group is important to navigate the system until laws are in place.

“I think it’s important there is this knowledge that’s passed down, and that there is this seeking out of mentors," she says.

"I've sought mentors—I’ve had to be active in doing that.”

More information on projects and events led by Women Employed and the AAUW can be found  on their websites.