It’s Equal Pay Day. Today, we recognize that women have had to work nearly a quarter of the year to make the same amount as their male counterparts did last year. On average, women who work full time in the United States are still paid $10,622 less per year than full-time working men. That number is appalling, but the wage gap is far worse for many women and families of color:
African American women who work full time are paid $18,514 less than white men who work full time. For Latino women, the gap is an astonishing $23,806. Closing this gap would have life-changing consequences, particularly in tough economic times like these.
Consider this: If the wage gap were eliminated, African American women who work full time could afford an additional three years’ worth of food, 12 months of mortgage and utility payments, 22 months of rent, more than five years of family health insurance premiums or more than 6,500 gallons of gas. Latino women could afford an additional 4 years’ worth of food, 16 months of mortgage and utility payments, 28 months of rent, almost seven years of family health insurance premiums, or more than 8,700 gallons of gas. Without question, the wage gap has a significant impact on the economic security of working women of color and their families.
Closing the gap is more important than ever. Women of color are recovering from the incredible harm done by the recession and the majority continue to be sole or significant breadwinners in their families. As a result, when our incomes are depressed by discrimination and unequal wages, our families and communities suffer.
The wage gap means that every month working mothers in our communities must struggle to decide which is more important: the electric bill or their families’ health insurance payments; the rent or gasoline to get to work. Closing the wage gap won’t prevent all of these situations but, when women are paid more fairly for their work, many will be able to avoid these impossible choices. Tens of millions of working women will be able to rest a little easier each night.
Leaders within our communities have already been vocal and active supporters of equal pay. Betty Dukes and Edith Arana have taken their wage discrimination case all the way to the Supreme Court. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – District of Columbia) has been a long-time champion of equal pay legislation. U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is committed to closing the wage gap and ensuring equity in the workplace. And we are fortunate to have a champion in President Obama, who has made equal pay a priority – from signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as his first major piece of legislation to pressing for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
It’s time for all members of Congress to follow their example. And it’s time for all of us to let them know that it’s important for them to promote economic security for all women, especially women of color. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which was re-introduced today in recognition of Equal Pay Day, is their opportunity. The bill is critically important and should be a priority for anyone who believes in equality and workplace fairness. Women and families of color cannot afford to wait any longer for equal pay. The time is now.