Each year the United States commemorates Equal Pay Day to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. Data show that women still earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. This gender-based wage gap stubbornly remains despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 and a variety of legislation prohibiting employment discrimination.
The wage gap is even greater for most women of color. For Native American women in particular—who only had a 45.9 percent employment rate in 2011 and whose communities consistently face high rates of poverty—pay equity is key for the economic advancement of their families and communities.
Here are 10 numbers that demonstrate why pay equity matters to Native American women and their families.
1. $32,062: The median income of American Indian and Alaska Native households, compared to $50,046 for the nation as a whole. Native American households are already earning less than the rest of the nation’s racial and ethnic groups, and women’s pay inequity further exacerbates this reality.
2. 27 percent: The national poverty rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives in 2011; this is the highest of all national poverty rates by race. Between 2007 and 2011 nine states had poverty rates of about 30 percent or more for Native Americans, and some states such as South Dakota and North Dakota had much higher rates—at 48.3 percent and 41.6 percent, respectively. Pay inequity for Native American women ensures that they will continue to top poverty rates in the future.
3. 371,085: The number of Native American women between the ages of 25 and 54 in the workforce, compared to 390,723 Native American men. Since fewer Native American women than men are employed, pay inequity contributes to the lower amount of earnings that may be available for these women and their families. Keeping full earnings from these women only augments the poverty rates in Native American communities.
4. 0.09 percent: The share of Native American women employed in the private sector as executive or senior-level officials and managers, compared to 0.19 percent of Native American men. In 2000 and again in 2005, the participation rate for Native American women as officials and managers in private industry was 0.1 percent. Meanwhile, Native American women are disproportionately represented among service workers and other generally low-paid positions, and still fall below their representation as officials and managers, professionals, craft workers, and operatives. Current trends suggest that Native American women will continue to be underemployed and underpaid where they are hired.
5. 21.4 percent: The share of Native American families maintained by a single female householder with no spouse present, according to the 2010 census, compared with about 9.2 percent of non-Hispanic white households. Single-parent Native American households have the highest poverty rates in the country. Withholding income from Native American women disadvantages them and their families, particularly when they are the sole breadwinners.
6. 22 percent: The share of Native American women ages 25 and older that graduated high school. About 14 percent of Native American women hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Although the number of Native American students enrolled in colleges and universities has more than doubled in the past 30 years, the graduation rate for Native American women has grown only slightly, from 21.7 percent in 2004 to 23.9 percent in 2008. Low graduation rates hinder professional success in the future, and, when combined with pay inequity, will keep Native American women from accumulating wealth and achieving financial security.
7. 50 percent higher: The assault rates for women residing on Native American reservations compared to the next most-victimized demographic, African American males. Native American communities already face high poverty rates and 29.2 percent of Native Americans were without any form of health care coverage in 2010. Pay equity would help alleviate stress caused by poverty and help Native American women obtain the health care services they need.
8. 8.5 percent: The share of American Indian and Alaska Native youth struggling with alcohol-use disorders, compared to 5.8 percent of the general population. Poverty and reduced incomes keep Native American women from providing their children with the health care services they need.
9. 31 percent: The share of Native American children living in poverty, compared to 11 percent of non-Hispanic white children. As women of all races and ethnicities are often tasked with the responsibility of being the primary caretakers for their children, pay inequity not only leads to a worse standard of living for women, but also for their children as well. Poverty leads to various issues among Native American youth such as mental health disorders, alcohol-use disorders, victimization, gang involvement, and suicide.
10. 58 percent: The share of Native American grandparents living with their grandchildren and who are also responsible for their grandchildren’s care. Pay inequity for women makes it harder for grandmothers to support children under their care and simultaneously provide for their own retirement.
As we look at the different women of color affected by pay inequity, we should not forget about Native American women. Poverty in the Native American community undoubtedly presents its women and families with a special set of obstacles. As the fight to close the gender wage gap continues, it is imperative to pay attention to the needs of Native American women and their families and ensure that they truly have equal access to health care, education, and a respectable standard of living.
Sandra Shaker and Morriah Kaplan are interns with Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress.