Working for Free: A Day in the Life of a Female American Worker

Infographic showing the wages lost over a 40 year career, with a woman next to bags of money of various sizes: AAPI Women at 400k, white women at $555k, black women at $964k, native women at $986k, and Latina/Hispanic women at $1,163k.

As I write this in the middle of my workday, I think about the fact that as of 2:40 p.m. I started working for free. Those calls I made, emails I sent, clients I spoke with—all for free. The grocery store cashier who rang up my groceries, the journalist who interviewed me on how to fight gender inequity, and the customer service representative who helped me were all women and thus also all working for free.

This may sound hyperbolic, but it is a fact that compared to all men in the United States, women make an average of $0.82 cents for every dollar a man earns. That means, when you consider a typical 9:00-5:00 work day, women begin working for free at 2:40 p.m. Take a moment. Imagine everything that you did after 2:40 p.m. today. And now imagine every day receiving no money for those two hours and twenty minutes of your time while your male co-workers are paid in full—for the same quality and amount of work. It doesn’t feel fair, right?

This year, we mark March 24, 2021 as Equal Pay Day—the day that an average woman, working full-time, was finally paid the same amount that an average man earned in 2020 alone. As we mark this day, it is critical to appreciate the intersectionality of equal pay: Black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar a white man earns; Native women are paid 60 cents for every dollar a white man earns; and Latinas are paid 55 cents for every dollar a white man earns. Vietnamese women are paid just 67 cents, Hmong women are paid just 61 cents, and Burmese women are paid just 52 cents for every dollar a white man earns.

These pay inequities are not coincidental. They are written into our laws. Take one example: the subminimum wage for tipped workers. Federal law states that employers only have to pay tipped workers $2.13 an hour if they are receiving tips. Nearly 7 in 10 tipped workers are women, and many are women of color. Even amongst tipped workers, women of color are at a disadvantage: for instance, an average Black female tipped restaurant worker is paid nearly $5 per hour less than a white male tipped worker.

This devaluation has real impact. Many tipped workers are paid too little to qualify for unemployment benefits, which have provided a critical safety net during the pandemic. And because they have to rely on the goodwill of customers just to make minimum wage, tipped workers are forced to choose on a daily basis whether to report a harassing customer or earn enough to feed their families. Because of these inequities, advocates in California and six other states have successfully fought to abolish the subminimum wage, but workers in 43 states are still only paid a subminimum wage.

Take a moment of your time, and call your senator: 202-224-3121. Let them know you demand equal pay for equal work, and ask them to support the Raise the Wage Act, which would create a $15 minimum wage and abolish the tipped subminimum wage. After all, as of 2:40 p.m., we women are working for free anyway, so let’s make our time count.

Categorized as Blog Post
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