First Equal Pay Day of the Year – for Asian Women – Reminds Us That the Wage Gap is Pervasive

by | Feb 22, 2018 | Fair Pay

Today is the first Equal Pay Day of 2018. It represents how far into 2018 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women have had to work to catch up with what white, non-Hispanic men were paid in 2017. Additional Equal Pay Days, for women overall and by race and ethnicity, will be marked in the months ahead – up until Latinas Equal Pay Day in November.

The fact that AAPI women who work full time, year-round in the United States have had to work nearly two additional months to reach pay parity with white, non-Hispanic men is a reminder that women continue to experience a pervasive wage gap with real consequences for their families, communities and our nation. Asian women are paid only 87 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men – a difference that equates, individually, to nearly $300,000 over the course of one’s career.

The wage gap for Asian women is no less punishing because it appears smallest. AAPI subgroups suffer from especially large wage gaps. For example, Burmese and Samoan women are paid roughly half – 51 and 56 percent, respectively – of what white, non-Hispanic men are paid. Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Fijian, Guamanian/Chamorro and Indonesian women all are paid less than 70 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

Women of color overall experience the gender wage gap most severely. Among women who work full time, year-round, Latinas are paid just 54 cents, Native American women 57 cents, and Black women 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. For comparison, overall women in the United States are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men – a figure that has barely budged in recent years.

Studies show that the wage gap cannot be explained away by industry, occupation, education level or other perceived choices. In fact, when analysts have controlled for these factors, a gap remains, meaning that biases and discrimination continue to play a role in women’s pay. And, women are subject to discrimination in the workplace based not only on sex, but also on race, ethnicity, caregiving responsibilities and other characteristics.

A lack of workplace protections and supports, along with power imbalances that can lead to sexual harassment, also contribute to the wage gap. For example, most women do not have access to paid family and medical leave, so they lose wages or their jobs when personal medical or caregiving needs arise. And women who experience sexual harassment are more likely to change jobs, and to get a lower paying position when they do. The prevalence of sexual harassment in certain industries may also lead women to self-select into “safer” and often lower paying industries.

At its current pace, researchers warn women will not reach pay parity until 2059. But there are public policies that would help. To start, women need access to better jobs with higher wages. Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, so raising the federal minimum wage and eliminating the tipped minimum wage are essential steps. We must also eliminate discrimination by enforcing the Equal Pay Act and passing legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act to protect people who discuss their wages and make it easier to challenge pay discrimination.

Enabling women to stay in the workforce and challenging gender caregiving norms are also critical. The Healthy Families Act would establish a national paid sick days standard, and the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would create a national paid family and medical leave program. Both are important protections for all working people, but especially women who are still primary caregivers. Pregnancy discrimination protections, combatting sexual harassment, affordable child care and predictable schedules would also increase retention and the advancement of women in the workforce.

States and cities are leading the way on many of these policies. More than half of states and several cities have increased their minimum wage rates in the past few years; 42 jurisdictions have, or will soon have, paid sick days laws in place; five states and the District of Columbia have paid leave laws; and nearly two dozen states and additional localities require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers who need them.

State and local progress is encouraging and will make a real difference for women with these protections, but fair pay will remain elusive – and Equal Pay Days will continue – unless Congress enacts legislation that will help all women receive higher wages and remain and succeed in the workforce. Until that happens, women and families, and especially women of color, will continue to suffer – and our economy and nation will pay the price.