On the 94th day of 2017 — April 4 — women will have finally worked enough days into this year to earn what their male counterparts earned in all of 2016. The advocacy day known as Equal Pay Day began in 1996, when the wage gap was nearly 74 percent, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. Since then, the gender wage gap has narrowed by only a whopping 6 cents — but at least there's been some progress in the last two decades. Equal Pay Day is hardly a holiday to be "celebrated" — if anything, it's a day that should be wiped off the calendar entirely. Despite the important advocacy the day promotes, there is still one major problem with Equal Pay Day.
Equal Pay Day gets a ton of airtime as it raises awareness for the ongoing fight for gender pay equity in America. But women are not merely single identity, one-dimensional beings, as race is a huge factor in wage disparity. If you're a white, single, childless woman, today is your Equal Pay Day. But if you're a mom, working mothers' Equal Pay Day isn't until the end of next month, on May 23. And if you're a Black woman, sorry ladies — you'll have to wait until July 31 for your Equal Pay Day. Native American? See you on Sep. 25. Latina? Yours isn't until Nov. 2. Then again, if you're Asian American like me, apparently our Equal Pay Day has already passed: It was back on March 7. (Yay, I guess?)
Unfortunately, an important part of the picture of Equal Pay Day gets lost when so much emphasis is put on the facts and figures surrounding only one specific class of women.
Let's take a look at those facts and figures for working women of minority races, shall we? A 2016 report by the National Women’s Law Center found that a Black woman only makes about 64 cents to every white man's dollar, and the lifetime wage gap for Black women costs more than $840,000 in career losses. In a statement last year, the NWLC’s Vice President for Workplace Justice Emily Martin said, "African American women shouldn’t need to work more than 66 years to earn what a white man earns in 40 years.”
Meanwhile, Native American women earn just 59 cents on the dollar compared to their white male counterparts. Within the American workforce, Native American women make up only 0.26 percent, and they are especially underrepresented in the private sector, particularly in senior- or executive-level positions. Native American women make up just 0.09 percent of senior level or executive positions, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The wage gap is even worse for Latinas: Latina women earn just 54 cents on the dollar to white men. In a Latina woman's lifetime, this means she'll have over $1 million in career losses, according to the NWLC. This, despite the fact that more than one-quarter of the American workforce will be Latina women by 2050, according to the Center for American Progress.
Equal Pay Day as it exists in April represents only a very select group of women, and the American workforce is far more diverse than single white women with no children. That's why it's so important that African American, Native American and Latina Equal Pay Days get just as much airtime throughout the year — and that the need for an Equal Pay Day for any woman is eliminated once and for all.