In the midst of a global pandemic, discussions about gender wage equality have largely taken a backseat to broader concerns about widespread economic insecurity in the wake of this crisis. Nevertheless, March 31 marks Equal Pay Day, the day that symbolizes how long it would take American women to “catch up” to the average earnings of white men working in the same positions—and when broken out into race, black, Native-American and Latina women fare far worse, not reaching their presumable catchup dates until August, October and November, respectively.
While the devastating economic impacts of COVID-19 are being felt across countries, races, ethnicities, genders and socioeconomic demographics, it would be naive to assume the playing field will somehow be leveled by the effects of this epidemic. Instead, longstanding inequities are already being magnified, making this Equal Pay Day an even more poignant one.
“There is a certain irony in celebrating Equal Pay Day during this historic time in the United States,” said Ms. Foundation for Women President and CEO Teresa C. Younger in a statement released to The Glow Up. “Today, as women around the country are suffering from lost wages, cut hours, and facing extreme economic hardships due to the spread of COVID-19, the pre-existing gaps in pay inequality are even more reprehensible.”
As our friends at Lean In told The Glow Up via email:
Women earn less—so they’re less protected from an economic crisis. On average, women are paid 18 percent less than men in the U.S. As we know, this is worse for black women (38 percent less than white men) and Latinas (45 percent less) This loss of income adds up—on average, women have 30 percent less money in savings than men—so they are less equipped to weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women—and minimum wage workers are less likely to get benefits like paid leave and health insurance that people need critically right now. Women are particularly at risk right now because they are over-represented in hourly jobs and in service sector jobs that are taking a big hit. More than 80 percent of single parents in America are women, which means many families are depending on ‘mom’ to get them through the crisis.
As we consider that 2018 Pew Research Center data indicates that approximately 47 percent of black families in the United States are helmed by a single mother, the impact of wage inequality—and now, losses—are profound.
“Even before March 2020, the statistics are bleak and should be repeated continuously,” said Younger. “On Equal Pay Day 2020, we face yet another threat to economic justice—this time in the form of a pandemic. Many hourly wage, gig and contract workers lack paid sick leave, family leave, and medical leave at a time when our national health and economy are under threat. Women comprise two-thirds of this workforce, and a disproportionate amount of these women are women of color, who now may face reduced hours, alongside the challenges of homeschooling children and tending to family members across generations.”
In other words, the issue of pay equity and systemic inequality is an epidemic that won’t be cured or contained by the development of a vaccine. Nor will the historic spending package recently passed by our government. And as the COVID crisis continues to devastate life as we know it, those who were already among our most vulnerable will inevitably become even more so if our government and business leaders don’t take even more strategic action to protect them.
“Women who did not earn enough to file a 2018 tax return, immigrant women, and those who lack access to banks will still enter April without the funds they need to make ends meet,” Younger warns.