Wage gap between Latinas and white men: It's worse than you think

Joe Raedle

On this National Latina Pay Equity Day — set aside on Dec. 8 to focus on the pay gap between Latinas and non-Hispanic white men — advocates are pressing a distinct message: It's worse than you think.

Reports released Thursday show that the earnings for Latinas are lower if calculations are not limited to just full time, year-round working women, as they generally have been.

Include the women who work seasonal or part-time jobs, and the earnings for equivalent work drop from 57 cents for every dollar earned by non-Hispanic white men to 54 cents, according to two reports released Thursday to mark National Latina Equal Pay Day.

That is a 46-cent wage gap when all Latina workers are included.

"It's worse than people think," Mónica Ramírez, founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women, an advocacy group for migrant women and their families, told NBC News.

The true reality of millions of working women has not been reflected in calculations of the wage gap by leaving out women who work part-time, seasonal or migrant jobs, Ramírez said.

"We have to understand when we only tell a best-case scenario, which is a bad scenario, we are effectively erasing major groups of people who are most in need of the kinds of policy changes that we are pushing for," Ramírez said.

Latina Equal Pay Day attempts to spotlight the average additional months and days Latinas have to work to be paid what a white non-Hispanic male worker makes in one year for the same kind of work. For Latinas, it takes an average of 24 months to equal what white, non-Hispanic males are paid in 12 months.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work.

According to the Justice for Women report, non-Hispanic white men working full and part time on average earn $50,624 per year, while Latinas working full and part time average $25,312. Latinas born outside the U.S. take home an average $23,287 a year, the reports state.

"Latinas are not working less hard. It comes down to the racism and sexism that they are facing in workplaces," said Jasmine Tucker, director of research for the National Women's Law Center, which also published a report on the Latina wage gap.

Tucker said the center's analysis included education and job differences, but the gaps persist. "Nothing explains it away except racism and sexism," she said.

The wage gap isn't confined to women in jobs that pay less, Ramírez said. There are many positions and jobs around the country that are part time, part year or seasonal and are salaried or pay well , she said.

"There are working women across our country, especially Latinas, whose contexts have been overlooked because of the seasonal or part-time nature of their work, but that doesn't erase the fact that they should be paid equally," she said.

At the height of the pandemic, the wage gap for Latinas was about 49 cents to every dollar, largely because Latinas were disproportionately pushed out of the job market in 2020. Low-wage workers were hardest hit.

Latinas have started to return to the workforce and their employment rates are recovering, but many have returned to part- time jobs, Ramírez said. The unemployment rate for Hispanic women 20 and older was 3.5% in November.

But Latinas’ labor force participation rate remains below pre-pandemic levels, with nearly 1 in 5 Latinas unemployed for six months or more, and more than 1 in 8 Latinas working part time involuntarily, according to a separate report released by National Women's Law Center.

In addition, the center's analysis of Census House Pulse Survey data shows that between Oct. 5 and Oct. 17, 18.4% of Latinas were in a household that lost employment income in the previous four weeks.

Also 19.4% reported not having enough food to eat in the previous week, while 16.5% of Latinas who rent reported being behind on rent, the National Women's Law Center report states.

Earnings vary for Latinas depending on the countries they or their families come from. Median annual earnings were lowest for women of Honduran descent at $21,000 and highest for Puerto Rican women at $35,000 a year, according to the Justice for Migrant Women report.

Among Latinas specifically working full time, year-round, women of Honduran descent had the lowest earnings compared to non-Hispanic white men, at 44 cents for every dollar earned. Women of Argentinian and Spanish descent were the highest paid, at 82 cents for every dollar.

Inheriting 'the impact of these sub-wages'

The 43 cents on the dollar not paid to Latinas working full time, year round would add up to $2,477 a month or $29,724 a year. That amount could pay for 10 months of child care, seven months of rent payments and 11 months of food costs, the National Women's Law Center calculated.

Under such a gap, Latinas starting careers of full-time, year-round work today would lose $1.19 million over the course of a 40-year career. If she starts at 20 years of age, a Latina would have to work nearly six years beyond her life expectancy to catch up.

The numbers were not calculated for the 54 cents on the dollar earnings.

A 2019 Center for American Progress study showed more than 4 in 10 (41.2 %) U.S. women were the sole or primary breadwinners — either single working mothers or married mothers.

"For other people who have wealth, your children will inherit land and homes and things," Ramírez said. "And our children are inheriting the impact of these sub-wages."

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com