If someone wishes you a Happy Equal Pay Day today, tell them thanks but you'd rather get paid. Equal Pay Day — Tuesday, April 4 this year — isn't a holiday we celebrate. It's the day that marks how far into the current year a woman has to work to make the same amount a man made in the previous year. Because women who work full-time, year-round in the United States are paid just 80 cents on average for every dollar men earn, it takes them over fifteen months to make what a man makes in twelve.
The picture is even bleaker for women of color: that 80 cents on the dollar shrinks to 63 cents for black women and just 54 cents for Latinas. So for a lot of women — too many of us, in fact — our Equal Pay Day is months away.
Working mothers, who often need the resources most, bear the heaviest burden. Consider the "motherhood penalty," which leads to working mothers earning even less, or the "triple bind" for mothers of color who stand at the intersection of racism, gender discrimination, and caregiving. This reality carries very real consequences: if we closed the wage gap for median annual pay, black working mothers — over 80 percent of whom are primary breadwinners for their families — would have enough money each year to pay for an estimated four more years of food, three and a half additional years of childcare, or two and a half more years of rent.
I know what those numbers really mean because, for much of my life, I was one of those women. As a woman of color and a single mom at 17, I worked full- and part-time jobs to support my daughter and myself while putting myself through college and law school. When I think about those days, I know the huge difference an extra few months of income would have made in my life — and I was fortunate by comparison. If the bottom had really fallen out in those early years, I could've leaned on my mom, and later, with a law degree in hand, I landed a well-paying job with full benefits. But so many women can barely make ends meet just to survive and have few supports to turn to.
And if we keep going at the rate we're going, it will take until 2059 to close the wage gap for women generally. That translates to more than a century for black women — two centuries for Latinas — to achieve wage parity. We cannot afford to wait that long.
Achieving "equal pay for equal work" is a worthy goal, but it's not enough to close the gap. We need to take on discrimination in the workplace — both explicit and implicit bias — by strengthening our laws, promoting pay transparency, and instituting other critical reforms. But in order to achieve real equity, we have to go further.
We need to address the disproportionate number of women — especially women of color — who are trapped in low-wage work. We have to confront the value (or lack thereof) we place on women's work. We pay dog trainers twice as much as childcare providers, and janitors more than housekeepers. Domestic workers, who are overwhelmingly women and predominantly women of color, are among the most undervalued, unprotected workers in America — it's an outrage that the people who take care of our families can barely afford to take care of their own. And what's more, wages are not only lower for work traditionally performed by women, but employee compensation decreases when women move into traditionally male-dominated jobs. Take, for example, the field of recreation. A recent study found that as women increasingly took over jobs like working in parks or leading camps, wages dropped by nearly 60 percent.