December 8th marks one day that does not merit the large family gatherings, endless servings of pasteles washed down with glasses of coquito, and other winter holiday traditions practiced by many Latine households: Latina Equal Pay Day.
Latina Equal Pay Day symbolizes how much further into the year Latinas must work, on average, to be paid what white, non-Hispanic men made the previous year. Because Latinas are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to men, this year’s Equal Pay Day suggests that Latinas must work nearly 12 additional months, for a total of two years, to bring home what white men bring home in one year. That figure accounts for part-time, seasonal, and full-time workers – yielding a more representative picture of the Latina workforce.
Although Latina Equal Pay Day is not a cause for celebration, it highlights the policy shortcomings and structural inequities that reinforce this wage gap by excluding Latinas from quality jobs, fair pay, and essential workplace benefits.
For example, my (Cristina’s) mom – a Puerto Rican nurse – once left her job to take care of me during an extended but unexpected medical leave. We never struggled to find a place to stay or put food on the table, but I clearly remember my mom’s exhaustion over trying to find stability during this period of deep uncertainty. These feelings could have been alleviated had better family-friendly policies been in place.
And my (Elisa’s) mom, who is also Puerto Rican, has been a teacher for 30 years. While most teachers are women, she has still experienced wage discrimination, employer harassment, and at her current job, only receives three paid personal and paid sick days. Within her first few months of teaching at her most recent school, she used all of her paid time off to recover from the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Without additional time dedicated to paid sick days, my mom may have to take unpaid time off to address other commitments, or go into work when she is not feeling well.
Similar to our moms, many Latina workers face these impossible decisions.
This year’s Equal Pay Day comes at a time when more than 12.6 million Latinas are in the workforce – a return to Latinas’ average pre-pandemic employment level. Despite their substantial and growing contributions to the national economy, Latinas lose $26,454 to the wage gap each year. With this lost income, they could afford three additional years of childcare, more than two years of rent, and pay off student loan debt in just over a year.
We must explore why Latinas’ earnings fail to reflect their invaluable role in our society and economy.
Latinas bear the brunt of unfair pay. This is partially due to occupational segregation,
demonstrated by the overrepresentation of Latina workers in low-paying service jobs. Service jobs are less likely to provide paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, two benefits that enable Latinas to support themselves and their families while balancing their caregiving needs.
For example, among full-time, year-round workers, Latinas in service jobs are paid a median annual income of $26,882. However, white men in service jobs are paid $47,161. Even within the higher-paying legal field Latina workers are paid $90,707 less than their white male counterparts.
These figures do not begin to cover the struggles that exacerbate the employment barriers faced by undocumented Latinas, from their fear of deportation and denial of basic human rights. More research and policy analysis on the employment experiences of undocumented Latinas is needed to better uplift their needs within the Latina Equal Pay Day discourse.
Furthermore, access to abortion – and, more generally, the ability to lead one’s own reproductive decisions – represent pressing economic security issues for Latinas. Nearly 6.5 million (42 percent) of Latinas aged 15 to 49 form the largest group of women of color living in the 26 states that have banned or are likely to ban abortion after the Dobbs decision.
We are invested in the economic security, health, and well-being of all Latinas, both as policy analysts, and as Puerto Rican women ourselves. We not only study statistics on Latina employment and pay; we live them. We grew up watching the women in our families navigate long, physically-demanding work days, school-drop offs and pick-ups, and elder caregiving duties. In return, we received hugs, kisses, and plenty of food from our abuelos and abuelas, tias and primos – but not the fair pay, quality workplace conditions and benefits that they deserved.
Popular policy proposals such as paid sick days and paid family and medical leave would clearly help Latina girls, such as our younger selves, and Latina women, such as our mothers, live and love without the threat of economic insecurity. Lawmakers must pass the Raise the Wage Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the BE HEARD Act to support and uplift these Latinas whose invaluable labor continues to be devalued by the pervasive wage gap.