BY GINA NAVARRETE, Opinion Contributor, Charlotte Observer
Equal Pay Day is March 24 this year. This date changes year by year because it represents how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. The Census Bureau reports that last year women in this country earned 81 cents for every dollar men earned in 2020. In other words, on a typical 9 to 5 workday, women begin working for free at 2:40 p.m.
And as grim as these statistics sound, the gap becomes wider and wider when we account for race and ethnicity. While Asian American women are paid 85 cents for every dollar paid to white men, Black women only make 63 cents; Native American women make 60 cents; and Latinx women make a mere 55 cents on the dollar. In other words, Equal Pay Day for Black women should be on August 3; for Native American women should be September 8; and for Latinx women it would be as late as October 21.
For the past 70 plus years, women’s participation in the workforce has significantly grown. More women are pursuing higher education and dedicating many more hours to their jobs and careers. Pay equity laws have been in existence for decades at the state and federal level. Legislation such as The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 aimed at preventing wage discrimination based on gender and race.
But despite such legislation and decades of legal fights and political arguments, the gender pay gap continues to prevail in the U.S. This is seen at all levels and across industries. While we often focus on national statistics, local women do not fare any better. In 2019, median earnings for men in North Carolina was $45,000; for women, it was just $36,400, putting women’s pay in North Carolina at 32nd in the nation.
The earning disparity grows wider as the employees’ educational attainment increased. For employees in Mecklenburg County with a bachelor’s degree, on average men earned $72,445 while women earned $47,739 (a 34-cent difference per every dollar earned), and of those employees having a graduate or professional degree, men earned $98,879 while women earned only $58,790 (a 40-cent difference per every dollar earned).
Due to these disparities in wages, states and local municipalities have begun to examine their own practices and ordinances instead of relying only on federal legislation. Policymakers at the state and municipal levels in many areas across the country have taken extra steps to eliminate – or at least narrow – the gender pay gap. By increasing pay transparency and outlawing employers from asking applicants about their pay history, lawmakers hope to eradicate discriminatory pay practices.
Pay equity initiatives go to the heart of eliminating gender and race discrimination when establishing and maintaining wages. Given the current administration and the economic hardship due to the pandemic, the time to achieve pay equity, though long overdue, has finally arrived. Black, indigenous and women of color not only often carry most of the financial burden of supporting their households and their families, but they are also the group that experience the gender wage gap most severely. And low-wage workers – 54 % of whom are women – are bearing the brunt of the pandemic as they lose jobs by the millions and are slow to be rehired, particularly Black and indigenous women of color.
As North Carolina cities and counties continue to focus on making our communities more equitable and lifting families out of poverty, we must work to narrow the gender pay gap for ALL women. We can begin to accomplish this goal by educating the public and acknowledging that the gender wage gap does indeed exist. Problems resulting from the gender wage gap will continue unless we at a minimum outline and label the issues. Major local employers need to lead the way toward pay equity in this region, and it is time for our local political leaders to raise public awareness and enact legislation to eliminate the gender pay gap.