Today, women across the country—especially women of color—continue to experience a pay gap and a higher risk of poverty than men. Women working full time, year round typically make only 80 percent of what their male counterparts make, leaving a wage gap of 20 cents on the dollar. This wage gap varies by race and is larger for women of color: Black women working full time, year round typically make only 61 cents, Native women only 58 cents, and Latinas only 53 cents, for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. While Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women make 85 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, many AAPI communities experience drastically wider pay gaps.
Persistent pay discrimination, often cloaked by employer-imposed pay secrecy policies, is one factor driving these wage gaps. Women’s overrepresentation in low-wage jobs is another. Women are close to two-thirds of the workforce in jobs that pay the minimum wage or just a few dollars above it, as well as two-thirds of workers in tipped jobs. Women of color are particularly overrepresented among tipped workers and other low-wage workers. And they are particularly harmed by a $7.25 federal minimum wage that has not gone up in a decade—and by a $2.13 tipped minimum cash wage that has been frozen for an astonishing 28 years. Pay discrimination and poverty-level wages heighten women’s economic vulnerability, which in turn heightens their vulnerability to sexual harassment on the job.
Women are increasingly the primary or co-breadwinner in their families, and many are supporting children on their own. They cannot afford to be shortchanged any longer. Two bills pending in Congress, the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Raise the Wage Act, are critical and complementary tools to boost women’s paychecks, combat poverty and persistent pay gaps, and provide the tools to challenge discrimination. There is no more fitting way to begin the historic 116th Congress than by making real, concrete progress in ensuring all women receive equal and adequate pay.