Wage gap exists among women too: Females of color far behind their white peers

Opinion

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Today marks the annual Equal Pay Day and not much has changed.

Equal Pay Day marks the day when women who have only made 77 cents for every dollar made by a white man doing the same work catch up to the annual salaries of white men a few months into the new year.

Equal Pay Day is a public awareness holiday meant to alert the public that men and women are still not getting equal pay for the same work.

That the statistic — 77 cents on the dollar — has remained mostly unchanged for over a decade is a reflection of both the normalization of gender discrimination and Republican congressional obstruction.  And the wage gap for women of color is even worse.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, black women only make 64 cents on the dollar to the salary of a white man and Latina women only make 54 cents on the dollar.

Republicans will claim that there is no gender wage gap.  That it’s a figment of the liberal imagination.  Some Republicans will argue that it’s all about the personal choices that women make, to not aggressively negotiate salary and to start families, that leaves them with nearly $400,000 less in lifetime earnings than their male peers.

Earlier today, Republican National Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski called the Paycheck Fairness Act currently being pushed by Democrats, “a political ploy” demonstrating just how partisan this issue has become.  An issue which seems like common sense — paying everyone equally for the same work — is now one which even Republican women oppose without irony.

And then there are the conservatives who will attack Democrats for perceived hypocrisy, because “women in the White House make less than the men.”  While this is a problem that needs to be addressed, arguing that paying women less than men for the same work is okay because the White House does it too, is not a persuasive argument.

Furthermore, while it’s true the information released shows that women in the administration make less than the men, the gap is smaller than 77 cents on the dollar — at 88 cents on the dollar — and it is increased transparency that allows us to know this information.  And knowing that wage discrimination is taking place is the essential first step any woman must go through in order to rectify this type of inequality.

That’s precisely what the Paycheck Fairness Act allows for.  Open conversations in the workplace about salary among co-workers, traditionally a taboo topic, would allow women and men in the workplace to openly discuss salary without the very real threat of retaliation from their employer.  This type of transparency is crucial for all women, but particularly women of color who are hit harder by this systemic inequality.

Since congressional Republicans won’t pass any meaningful legislation before the midterm elections, President Obama signed two executive orders Monday to address the gender pay gap.  One of the executive orders bars federal contractors from retaliating against any employees who discuss salaries with each other.  The other executive order requires a greater level of transparency and will require employers to release information and data to the Labor Department about salaries on the basis of race and gender.

President Obama has said often that when women succeed, America succeeds.  With many more American households being led by women breadwinners, the gender pay gap is an issue that all Americans need to care about.  The gender pay gap is not a women’s issue, it’s an issue of basic fairness for all workers.

If a black woman is the head of her household but is only taking in 64 cents to the dollar of her male colleagues, that’s not only discrimination against her, but it impacts her entire family.  That’s less food, less tuition, less everything that mother can afford to buy to provide for her family.  Women make up nearly half of the American workforce and yet this persistent discrimination is holding us all back.  Let’s hope that next year, these numbers change and pieces on the wage gap won’t be able to be reprinted unchanged because Congress has left the problem unresolved for yet another year.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @ZerlinaMaxwell.