The Wage Gap Is Costing Me a Million Dollars

nwlc_LatinaEqualPayDay_2016Latina Equal Pay Day has landed on November 1 this year, which means that today is the day that we shed light on the ugliest wage gap in America. Overall, women make  80 cents to every dollar a man makes, but the reality is that women of color experience a larger gap than that. Different equal pay days are determined by calculating how long it would take the women of a particular race or ethnicity to earn the same amount that a white, non-Hispanic man makes in one year alone. So there’s the elephant in the room: it takes a Latina approximately 22 months to catch up to what a white, non-Hispanic man makes in 12. Latinas typically make 54 cents to the dollar of white, non-Hispanic men, which means their wage gap is the largest of any other major racial or ethnic group of women.
As a Latina who was raised by a single mother, I know the struggle that accompanies being a working woman of color all too well. My mother spent much of my childhood working overtime to ensure that our needs were met. She grew exhausted of playing catch up with the bills, so she set out to pursue a higher education in the hopes that one day we wouldn’t just be getting by, but would actually achieve economic stability. The 10 years that it took to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees were the toughest, barely-making-ends-meet years of our lives, and by the time she graduated, I was experiencing the burden of being a Latina in the workforce for myself. I’ve lived with this wage gap my whole life — closing it would help millions of us finally achieve economic justice.
Statistics show that my mother and I are just two of millions of Latinas who continue to struggle with this. We face an approximate fiscal loss of over one million dollars over a 40-year career because of the sexist and racist wage gap. The overtime that a Latina must work in order to make ends meet is time that she is unable to invest into her personal life. As of 2015, there are approximately 16.2 million Latino households in the United States, and of those, 46 percent rely on two incomes, meaning that the mother’s paycheck is crucial to keep the family afloat. In many cases like my own, that paycheck is the only means of survival, which leaves this group prone to a life in poverty.
The fact of the matter is that living in a country that is lagging to close the gender wage gap perpetuates cycles of economic injustice, especially in Latino communities. Relying on an inadequate paycheck affects where Latinas live, how and what they feed their children, where their kids attend school, their academic performance, and the health care that they receive, to name a few factors influenced by economic status. Those, in turn, affect whole communities, because economic instability undermines future generations’ ability to break cycles of inequity. That is why, on this November 1, we need to actively spread awareness about the systemic consequences of underpaying Latinas and pledge to do everything we can to close this wage gap.  We will all benefit from the progress that comes with righting wrongs.