Early in my career, I represented a group of Latina farmworker women who were employed at a nursery in South Florida. They were experiencing a range of issues, including pesticides exposure. They first came to me for help because they had started getting headaches and rashes after being sprayed by an unknown chemical while on the job. But pesticides were not their only problem.
A U.S. Department of Labor investigation found that these women were also being paid less than their male counterparts. Eventually, they brought a lawsuit, and I worked on the federal complaint related to this case nearly 20 years ago. Unfortunately, similar inequities still exist today.
When it comes to the gender pay gap, it isn’t just farmworker women who are experiencing this problem. In fact, Latinas working full time, part time, and part year across every industry and sector are being paid an average of just 52 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic male workers. Today, Oct. 5, we observe the national Latina Equal Pay Day of Action to raise awareness about this injustice. It’s a day to take stock of the persistent pay gap and to discuss the remedies to this problem.
For a long time, people conceived of equal pay days as marking the moment when women workers, including Latinas, would “catch up” to what our white male counterparts made the previous calendar year. What they really represent is how many additional months and days we have to work to be paid the equivalent to what those men were paid in 12 months. By the time we reach our “pay day,” we are already far, far behind—for Latinas, we have to work almost two full years to be paid what white male workers are paid in one.
The reality is there is no “catching up.” Over the course of our careers, those years add up to leave us so far behind that we will never experience equity. Being perpetually behind, from the first discriminatory wages we receive, impacts not only our quality of life, but also how fast we can pay off our student loans, how much we can save for retirement, and how much we can pay into Social Security—not to mention our ability to start businesses, create jobs, and contribute to the overall consumer economy.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that, following the trends set between 2002 and 2022, Latinas who work full time, year round wouldn’t see their earnings catch up to those of white, non-Hispanic men until 2171. For all Latinas with earnings, that year is even further in the future: 2207. The bottom line: as things stand, we will not see pay equity in our lifetimes.
It doesn’t have to be this way. While there is no single, magic solution to closing the pay gap, there are changes we can make that, collectively, will right this wrong. We need to make policy changes at the federal and state level. The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen already existing equal pay protections. Better protections also need to be put in place for farmworkers, domestic workers, tipped workers, including restaurant workers, and gig workers. All of these jobs are places where Latina workers over index, and each of them require significant improvements to their working conditions.
We need to ensure that Latinas who wish to stay in the workforce, regardless of where their personal lives take them, are able to do so. This requires predictable scheduling. When people can’t rely on a consistent, set schedule for work, it’s hard for them to plan for their lives. For caregivers, this creates major obstacles for their ability to continue earning. Legislation such as the Part Time Worker Bill of Rights Act and Schedules That Work Act would provide needed flexibility and stability to aid workers of all genders. Until we see significant legislative advancements, we will still have serious hurdles to surpass in order to close the pay gap for Latinas and for other working people, including LGBTQIA+ community members, who are often overlooked by the data and who face multiple forms of discrimination.
Finally, we need to change workplace culture and the public narrative about women and work in our country. The deep-seated notions and unconscious biases that say we are less valuable or less capable than our male counterparts are reflected in the pay we receive and the way we are treated. Employers must create safe and fair workplaces where people want to work—for their benefit as much as ours.
Ramírez is an attorney, author, and activist. She is the founder of Justice for Migrant Women and co-founder of the Latinx House and Poderistas, and was featured on the 2021 TIME100 Next list.
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time