This year the nation marked Equal Pay Day (the symbolic day when women’s earnings finally catch up to men’s earnings from the previous year) on April 8th. I was lucky enough to be able to “celebrate” by standing with President Obama at the White House as he signed two critical executive actions to address the problem of unequal pay in the federal contractor workforce.
Yes, that’s right — women overall have to work three months into the new year before their wages catch up to men’s. Even worse, when you look at the data by race and gender together it is clear that it takes even longer for women of color to catch up. That’s because the wage gaps experienced by women of color are substantially larger than for women overall. Women overall typically make only 77 percent of what men make for full time, year round work — but, for example, for African American women and Hispanic women compared to white, non-Hispanic men this figure is 64 cents and 54 cents, respectively.
Which brings us to late July — the time when we will finally reach Equal Pay Day for African American women.
The 36 cent wage gap between African American women and white, non-Hispanic men translates to a loss of $18,650 per year for the typical African American women. It is present at every level of educational attainment. And while it is true that African American women disproportionately make up the low-wage workforce in this country, a wage gap between African American women and their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts persists for women across a range of occupations — those that are well paid and those that are poorly paid, those that are female-dominated and those that are not traditional for women.
Every year Equal Pay Day is an occasion to recommit ourselves to the important work of finally closing the gender pay gap — things like getting the Paycheck Fairness Act passed by Congress and increasing the minimum wage. But it must also be an occasion to remember that women of color are at a double disadvantage when it comes to achieving equal pay.