Today, March 15, is Equal Pay Day. This is the day that, on average, women have caught up to the amount white men earned in 2021. Historically, women’s work has been systemically undervalued and undercompensated, and regardless of the type of work they perform, their education level, or their experience, women are paid less than men. Although some progress has been made to close the gap over the last several decades, that momentum has slowed and the disparity has remained largely stable over the last 15 years.
The consequences of the gender pay gap are particularly salient when the data is disaggregated by race. While women collectively earn approximately 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, that figure drops to 62 cents for Black women, 54 cents for Latina women, and 57 cents for Indigenous women. The lived experiences of this disparity are profoundly compounded by the reality that women of color are disproportionately living in poverty, facing unemployment, and violently policed by the family regulation regime. It is also important to understand the scope of the problem on a longer timeline: a 38-cent gap for Black women balloons to nearly one million in lost income over the course of a 40-year career, undoubtedly contributing to the prolonged entrenchment of this nation’s racial wealth gap.
Notably, other axes of subordination work in concert with race and gender to further bar marginalized women from earning equal pay for equal work, a reminder that efforts to eradicate the persistent pay gap must be centered on the women most vulnerable to the harms wrought by systemic injustice. For example, a recent study found that transgender women earn merely 60 cents on the dollar, a figure which surely decreases for trans women of color. The report also points out that this specific pay gap is likely larger than it appears due to the prevalence of queer people engaged in sex work and other underground economies which are not adequately researched. Additionally, persons with disabilities are frequently left out of the conversation about gendered pay disparities, but in many states, it is still perfectly legal to pay persons with disabilities led people far below the minimum wage. The existence of institutionalized inequities of this nature demonstrate how dismantling the pay gap requires addressing larger structural issues from inaccessible housing to education exclusion.
For over 50 years, organizers and advocacy groups have collaborated in the fight to close the pay gap, and worker solidarity remains an enormously important tool for ensuring pay equity for women, especially those who are multiply marginalized. Harmful systems won’t change until we redistribute power and resources from those who unjustly possess it. Liberation is a community endeavor, and here are some things we can do in service of the movement.
First, organize your workplace. Union membership protects workers, builds community power, and encourages pay transparency, all of which further the effort to close the gender pay gap. Learn about the numerous benefits which stem from unionized workplaces and how you can advocate for working people.
Additionally, learn about the ways the law protects you as a worker from pay disparities and what to do if you believe that your employer is unfairly paying you less than your coworkers by reading this fact sheet we created. Understand who Equal Pay laws apply to, what constitutes discrimination, and steps you can take to document your experience and resolve your situation.
Finally, and critically, continue to talk about these inequalities with everyone in your life. Knowledge is power, and far too many people are unaware that wage gap exists or how severe it continues to be today. Encourage state and local leaders in your community to recognize Equal Pay Day and engage with these efforts to secure justice for everyone.
* Rhiana Everest is a law clerk with the Gender Equity & LGBTQ Rights Program at Legal Aid at Work