Despite being original inhabitants and stewards of this land, Native women have never been compensated for the full value of their labor in the U.S. workforce, and this inequity persists today. In 2021, the most recent data available, Native women working full time, year round were typically paid only 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This gap in pay typically amounts to a loss of $2,400 every month or $28,797 every year. If this gap isn’t closed, a Native woman starting her career today stands to lose $1,151,880 over a 40-year career.
As bad as these losses are, the wage gap for full-time, year-round workers doesn’t fully reflect the true economic disparities faced by many Native women. The full-time, year-round wage gap leaves out those Native women who were unemployed or out of the labor force for part of the year, or who worked part time, even if they wanted full-time work. This is especially significant when we consider the 2021 data, as the labor market shifted dramatically in 2020 and its effects continued in 2021. Millions of jobs were lost as the result of the pandemic, particularly among low-paid women workers, while others were forced into part-time work. When we include part-time and part-year workers in the comparison, Native women were typically paid only 51 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in 2021.
Wage gap figures for Native women working full time, year round vary widely by community. For example, Blackfoot, Tohono O’odham, and Yaqui women make just 51 cents while Iñupiat women make 89 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Whatever the wage gap for Native women, lost earnings due to the racist and sexist wage gap have robbed them of the economic security they needed in the pandemic amid job loss, food insecurity, and general uncertainty about their health and safety.
The wage gap will typically cost a Native woman over $1.1 million over a lifetime of work.
A loss of 43 cents on the dollar adds up over a month, a year, and a lifetime. Native women working full time, year round are typically losing $2,400 each month or $28,797 each year. This annual wage gap could have paid for nearly a year of child care, ten months of food, and 6 months of rent. It could have been a lifeline for Native women and their families during the pandemic.
If today’s median wage gap does not close, a Native woman stands to lose a staggering $1,151,880 over the course of a 40-year career. Assuming a Native woman and her white, non-Hispanic male counterpart both begin work at age 20, the wage gap means a Native woman would have to work until she is 90 years old to catch up to what a white, non-Hispanic man was paid by age 60.5 In other words, a Native woman would have to work 15 years beyond her current life expectancy.6 In reality, she would never be able to catch up and match a white, non-Hispanic man’s earnings.
Racist and sexist wage gaps have always existed – but the pandemic drove new, harmful economic fissures along racial and gender lines. As we recover from the economic fallout of COVID-19, we must address our long underinvestment in economic and social infrastructure and the inadequate protections that left many women stranded at the intersection of the racial and gender inequities laid bare by the pandemic.
Some communities of Native women experience substantially wider wage gaps.
Although Native women working full time, year round typically make 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, the wage gap varies widely and women of many Native communities experience much larger wage gaps compared to white, non-Hispanic men than Native women overall. For example, Blackfoot, Tohono O’odham, and Yaqui women make just 51 cents while Iñupiat women make 89 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
Unequal pay means Native women have less money to cover their current expenses at a moment when every penny counts. It also has ripple effects that mean Native women miss key opportunities throughout their lifetimes to build wealth and future economic security for themselves and their families. The wage gap means many cannot save enough to afford a down payment on a home, cannot afford to pay for their own or a child’s higher education, cannot start a business or save for retirement.
Losses due to gender and racial wage gaps are devastating for Native women and their families, many of whom lose tens of thousands of dollars annually to the wage gap. This harms not only native women, but the families who depend on their income. The COVID-19 crisis underscores the need to close the wage gap now. Native women cannot afford to wait.