Women’s Equality Requires Raising the Wage
March 24, 2021
This last year has been a challenging one for all us, but women have carried a heavy burden throughout this pandemic. In 2020, women’s unemployment hit its highest since 1948 with Black and Latina women facing higher rates of unemployment than white women and men. In February 2021, it was reported that women, in particular women of color, had lost 5.4 million jobs—nearly 1 million more than men. Women have also had to leave the workforce as the pandemic has closed schools and childcare facilities leaving many women to take on this essential caretaking role. This pandemic has not created inequalities, instead it has exploited what was already there.
March is Women’s History Month and the 24th is Women’s Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day marks the day in the year when women earn what men did the previous year, meaning it takes 15 months for women to earn what men do in 12. On average, women are paid 82 cents on every dollar a man makes meaning that on a typical 9:00-5:00 workday, women start working for no pay at 2:40 p.m. These Equal Pay Days continue throughout the year with Mother’s Equal Pay Day in June, Black Women’s in August, Indigenous Women in September, and Latina Women in September.
Clearly, working women, particularly women of color, are facing a devastating economic reality. While the American Rescue Plan achieved major victories for families across the country, it failed to raise the minimum wage. Raising the wage is essential to closing the gender and racial pay gap that has harmed marginalized communities for centuries.
The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 proposes slowly increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 over 5 years and ends subminimum wage practices for tipped, youth, and disabled workers over a 6 years. The tipped minimum wage is a currently only $2.13 an hour and creating one fair wage of $15 would greatly benefit women who represent more than two-thirds of tipped workers. Coupled with the Raise the Wage Act, Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which provides more remedies for gender pay discrimination.
So what would a $15 minimum wage mean for women?
Of the 32 million workers whose pay would increase from the Raise the Wage Act, 59% are women and more than a quarter have children. That means 19 million women would benefit. Nearly 1 in 4 of those women are Black or Latina. Women, and in particular women of color, are overrepresented in low-wage jobs due to historical gender and racial occupational segregation. According to recent reports, women working year-round, on average, would see an increase of about $3,500 in wages annually. For Black and Latina women, this figure increases to $3,700. 3.4 million Black women and 4 million Latina would see this substantial and transformative pay increase. Additionally, 8 million mothers across the country would see similar benefits giving them the capability and power to support their families. Analysis of 2019 data found that among mothers who would get a raise, 65% are primary or sole breadwinners for their families and an additional 19% are co-breadwinners.
It could not be clearer: women need a fair wage and a chance for economic security. No one can survive on $7.25 and those in opposition to raising the minimum wage are keeping women and Black and Brown communities in poverty. Closing racial and gender wealth disparities and recovering from an economic crisis demands immediate action. Raising the wage to $15 allows families to have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Women need justice and equality now. This Women’s History Month and this Equal Pay Day show solidarity with working women and join the fight to raise the wage.