Equal Pay Day should matter to all

Equal Pay Day should matter to all

Women still make only 84 cents for every dollar men earn.

Equal Pay Day should matter to all

I grew up surrounded by working women. That’s why Equal Pay Day feels so personal to me. 

My mom, the sixth of 10 siblings birthed by my abuelita, and one of seven girls, has worked all her life. Growing up in deep poverty, most of the siblings had to pick up a job as soon as they got old enough to manage the streets of Mexico City in the early 1960s. I remember hearing about two gigs my mom had back in the day: one was selling handmade copies of Disney characters in the street; the other was as an assistant to my dad, who was a manager of a local pharmacy chain (that’s how they met). My six aunts all worked from an early age too, as house cleaners, dental assistants, and homemakers once marriage entered the picture.

Growing up, all I knew was that any of my aunts put in more hours than any of my uncles simply because they would come home from work to cook, take care of the kids, and pay bills. 

Nowadays, I live in the wealthiest country in the world, which touts the American dream and boundless opportunity, but where gender inequities persist, as Equal Pay Day reminds us. Equal Pay Day asks how long into the following year the average woman must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. The answer is that it takes women more than 10 weeks to catch up to men. This is because women make only 84 cents for every dollar a man earns.

This wage gap cannot be explained by choices made by women in the workforce. Data shows that women are paid less regardless of the industry they work in. And when you look closer at wages within occupations, you find the wage gap everywhere. In fact, in some industries like health care (79 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts) and sales (59 cents), the gap is even wider.

Equal pay day does not reach all women at the same time. For Black women, Equal Pay Day won’t arrive until July 9, because the full-time, year-round Black women workers make 69 cents on the dollar. For Latina and Native women, it will take until October 3 and November 21 respectively to match their White, non-Hispanic male counterparts.  

There are many drivers of this, but the roots can be found in old social and cultural norms rooted in a patriarchal, misogynistic culture. Women, we’ve noted before, “still serve as the family’s principal caretaker — the vital work of raising kids, caring for an elderly parent or caring for a family member who has fallen ill,” resulting in women having to leave the workforce. And gender — and racial — discrimination is still very present in our economic system.

So yes, I take this personally. And so should everyone concerned with creating an equitable and just economic system. We simply cannot wait months and months for fairness to catch up to everyone.

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Alejandro Queral

Alejandro Queral is Executive Director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy

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