* By Cirrus Jahangiri
Today marks the second anniversary of LGBTQ+ Equal Pay Awareness Day—a day that recognizes the disparate wage gap for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
We at Legal Aid at Work take this day to reflect on the concerning economic disparity affecting LGBTQ+ people. The Human Rights Campaign found that, in the United States, LGBTQ+ workers earned an average of approximately 89 cents for every dollar earned in a week by the “typical worker” (as in, the median wage for all workers). Factoring in the intersections of race/ethnicity, gender, and LGBTQ+ identity, Black LGBTQ+ women earned 85 cents for every dollar the “typical worker” earned, Native American LGBTQ+ women earned 75 cents, and Latinx LGBTQ+ women earned 72 cents.
In addition to highlighting these disparities, LGBTQ+ Equal Pay Awareness Day also highlights the alarming lack of data in the United States about economic outcomes for LGBTQ+ people. For decades, Census data and surveys excluded questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. However, in July 2021, the Census Bureau made a historic step by adding questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to its Household Pulse Survey for the first time. While collecting data is a positive first step, the available data paints a troubling picture about the economic well-being of LGBTQ+ people.
LGBTQ+ people’s identity places them in unique and often threatening positions in the workplace that disadvantage their economic prospects. According to a 2019 survey of roughly 2,000 adults by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy, 53% of LGBTQ+ workers felt they were treated worse on the job compared to 23% of non-LGBTQ+ people. 45% of all employees reported hearing anti-LGBTQ+ remarks in the workplace across various sectors. Discrimination in the workplace directly impacts the economic prospects for LGBTQ+ workers—it can result in underpay, firing, lack of career advancement, and fear of stigma. 59% of transgender people surveyed by McKinsey & Company reported that safety was their highest concern in decisions not to pursue employment in certain industries that might provide higher wages.
The gaps in wages for LGBTQ+ people create unequal economic conditions. A 2019 study of the economic well-being of LGBTQ+ adults found that 66.1% of LGBTQ+ adults reported they were “doing okay” financially, much less than non-LGBTQ+ adults (77.3%). In addition, more LGBTQ+ households reported earnings less than $25,000 a year compared to non-LGBTQ+ households. The study underscored the direct consequences of the economic disparities. LGBTQ+ households:
- were less likely to own their homes,
- were more likely to have a higher monthly mortgage rate,
- were more likely to borrow money for their education,
- were less frequently ready to pay their bills or unexpected expenses,
- were more likely to pay out of pocket for major medical expenses, and
- had less money saved for retirement.
Transgender and nonbinary people of color face the most severe discrepancies in wages and economic advancement. A study by the Williams Institute found people of color, specifically transgender people of color, had significantly higher poverty rates than white people. McKinsey’s report revealed that 75% of Native American and 43% of Hispanic transgender people make less than $25,000, compared with only 17% of white cisgender people. The COVID-19 pandemic grossly exacerbated the discrepancies in economic security felt by LGBTQ+ people— especially for transgender and nonbinary people of color. A report by the Human Rights Campaign demonstrated that, during the pandemic, 58% of transgender people of color had their work hours reduced, compared to 27% of white LGBQ people and 23% of the general population. Further, 26% of transgender people of color became unemployed, compared to 13% of white LGBQ people and 12% of the general population.
How can you support LGBTQ+ equal pay? Contact your member of Congress to express support for these two pending bills:
- Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill requires employers in wage discrimination cases to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate reasons other than sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It also establishes a training program in negotiation skills related to compensation and equitable working conditions, and protects against retaliation for discussing salaries with colleagues. In addition, the bill directs the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor to collect data to better enforce wage discrimination and eliminate illegal wage disparities.
- Raise the Wage Act. This bill increases the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Transgender people are 2.4 times more likely to work in the food or retail industries, which often pay the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage would increase wages for over one million LGBTQ+ adults and would reduce poverty for over one-third LGBTQ+ households.
Finally, read and share our toolkit for transgender and nonbinary workers to help them understand their legal rights and take action when their employers break the law. Knowledge is power; raising awareness bolsters support and fosters access to opportunity and change.
* Cirrus Jahangiri is a law clerk with the Gender Equity & LGBTQ Rights Program at Legal Aid at Work