Observing—but Not Celebrating—Latina Equal Pay Day

Danielle Mendoza helps her children get ready for bed in her apartment in Renton, Washington, on October 6, 2016.

In honor of Latina Equal Pay Day, regular Race and Beyond columnist Sam Fulwood III invited Angela Maria Kelley, Senior Vice President at the Center for American Progress, to reflect on the intersecting barriers of gender and race in the U.S. workforce.

November 1 is Latina Equal Pay Day—the day of the year that marks how long it takes for the average Latina to earn what the typical white man makes in one calendar year in the United States. That’s just 60 days before the end of the following year, when the count starts all over again. It’s no wonder that so many women, especially Latinas and their black and Native American counterparts, feel as if they are stuck in a hamster wheel.

By most calculations, Latinas must work 10 months extra, on average, to earn the same amount that white men do in one year. The average woman earns 79 cents for every dollar that men earn, but the wage gaps for nearly all women of color are dramatically wider. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2015 show that women earn less than men in all but five occupations. And these wage gaps persist despite the fact that women now earn the majority of college degrees.

As the daughter of Bolivian and Colombian immigrants, I am a Latina who has been fortunate to have a fulfilling career as an advocate. In both my professional and personal lives, I have observed the reality and impact of this pay disparity. Being an advocate is personal. And in my work, I think of the pay disparity that likely awaits my own daughters and nieces.

Aside from ensuring that their children are safe, clothed, and fed, mothers also tend to do everything in their power to position their children for success. That often means trying to get them the very best education available; helping them with work advice—on everything from resumes to how to dress in business attire; and encouraging them to pursue their passions in a way that aligns with their skills, with the hope that they will achieve their maximum potential.

But what happens when, despite all of the best intentions and preparation, the very real constraints in American society—ranging from policies that are not fully responsive to women’s needs to persisting racial and gender biases—prevent the women in my family from reaching their potential?

As the Center for American Progress has analyzed in depth, the contributing factors behind wage disparities include:

Latinas are vital labor force members and family breadwinners in the United States, yet they are too often underpaid and insufficiently protected. For example, while 61.1 percent of Latina mothers were primary, sole, or co-breadwinners for their households in 2013, their individual lifetime wage gap totaled $1,007,080. Latina workers also make up 6.9 percent of the total labor force—and 14.7 percent of the female labor force—but 49 percent of them are unable to earn paid sick days.

This trend cannot continue—and not just because it is morally wrong. The country cannot afford it because the financial success of women is good for everyone. Moreover, as the country’s demographics continue to shift, the Latina civilian labor force participation rate is projected to grow 1.4 percent, making Latinas the only gendered ethnic group expected to grow over the next decade. It is time to stop saying that every little girl can have the same dreams as the boys in her class and start making it so. It is time for policymakers to ensure that women have the same opportunities in life as men, in everything from health care and family decisions to financial opportunities.

Women, advocates, and the country as a whole have undeniably made great strides to overcome the barriers that blocked previous generations from achieving success in the workplace. But we must do so much more in order to fully eliminate the earnings gap. Hopefully, my daughters will be able to someday look their own daughters in the eye, tell them they can be anything they want, and know it’s the truth.

Angela Maria Kelley is a Senior Vice President at the Center for American Progress. Her work focuses on politics, progressive policy, immigration and integration policy, media, Latino issues, and race and ethnicity.