The pandemic has been devastating for women’s progress, and we will feel the effects of job loss and COVID-related career pauses and exits for years to come. Now as we mark the close of Women’s History Month and the recent Equal Pay Day, it’s important to note that the pay gap persists. March 24 was Equal Pay Day, but only for some women. White women in the U.S. that work full-time, year-round are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. But Black women will have to work until Aug. 3 to earn what men made in 2020, and Latina women will have to work until Oct. 21.
Francesca Donner and Emma Goldberg recently reported in The New York Times that in 25 years, the pay gap has shrunk by eight cents. Eight cents. As in a nickel and three pennies. They also report if current trends continue, “the gender wage gap is expected to close in a mere 38 years. For Black and Hispanic women, the deadline is a whole century away.”
That may be optimistic as the gap could even get wider. Lisa Rabasca Roepe writes in Ms. Magazine that economists predict COVID will widen the gender wage gap by five percentage points—setting women’s wages back 10 years – so that the average female worker will earn 76 cents for every dollar the average male worker makes. The article quotes Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.Org, as not being surprised and as saying, “There is no way we went through 2020, where we saw disproportionate job losses for women, particular Black and Latina women, without the wage gap getting larger.”
What Can We Do?
Closing the wage gap demands an investment of time and resources. The good news is, the pay gap is a topic of discussion and people are paying attention.
Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. In “A Proclamation on National Equal Pay Day, 2021” President Biden says that doing so will mean an important step towards the goal of ending pay discrimination. “It will ban employers from seeking salary history — removing a common false justification for under-paying women and people of color — and it will hold employers accountable who engage in systemic discrimination. The bill will also work to ensure transparency and reporting of disparities in wages, because the problem will never be fixed if workers are kept in the dark about the fact that they are not being paid fairly. Relying on individuals to uncover unfair pay practices on their own will not get the job done; when pay data is available, workers can better advocate for fair pay and employers can fix inequities.”
Provide Paid Family and Medical Leave. President Biden also states that we need to, “make schedules more predictable and childcare more affordable, and build pipelines for training that enable women to access higher-paying jobs. This commitment also means increasing pay for childcare workers, preschool teachers, home health aides, and others in the care economy.” Much of this needs to be part of our post-COVID rebuilding efforts as much of the care economy has been disrupted during the pandemic.
Raise the Minimum Wage. Women make up two-thirds of the nearly 20 million workers in the low-wage jobs such as childcare, home care and grocery store cashier, all what the pandemic has defined as essential workers. Most of these positions still earn minimum wage, which Congress has only increased three times in the past forty years. In states that have increased the minimum wage, the gender pay gap has begun to close. For instance, in California where the minimum wage is $14 an hour, women now earn 88 cents for every dollar a man earns. Roepe also reported that a Congressional Budget Office estimate finds that that gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 would lift 1.3 million Americans out of poverty, including 600,000 children.
The challenge is to continue the conversation until these steps can become policy and the law of the land. As we begin to rebuild from the devastation of COVID, equal pay for all women of every ethnicity needs to be a top priority. Equal Pay Day is a reminder that we have work to do. We need to take steps to make change for everyone, point out the injustices, and do what we can personally and politically to make sure that women all races get the equal pay they deserve.