- Latinas recounted the moment they found out they were making less than their white male colleagues.
- Misconceptions contribute to pay disparities, including racist assumptions that Latinas are unambitious.
- The pandemic saw renewed urgency to address pay disparities harming Latino families and communities.
Michelle Orozco was sitting at a happy hour with some colleagues when a co-worker began complaining about being underpaid.
At first, she nodded along in agreement. A few months earlier she had gone to management inquiring about a promotion – a conversation that resulted in more responsibilities, but no pay increase or title change. She was instructed that as soon as the company got past its hiring freeze, her compensation would match her labor.
But through her colleague, Orozco discovered she was making $US10,000 ($AU13,404) less than her co-worker, even though they held the same title. Having taken on those additional responsibilities, she had arguably been doing more work than him.
These salary disparities persist nearly 60 years after The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed.
“I realized that in order to grow professionally, I would have to leave jobs,” Orozco, a media product manager, told Insider. “No one went to bat for the hard work I was putting in daily.”
But experts say the responsibility should not simply lie with them.
Latinas are overworked and underpaid, so much so that Latina Equal Pay Day – the day when the average Latina pay catches up to what non-Hispanic, white men make in a year – is the last equal pay day of 2021.
Observed on Oct. 21, the day is a call to action, one that draws awareness to the fact that Latinas across industries earn 57 cents ($0.76) on average for every dollar a non-Hispanic white man makes and have to work for almost 23 months to earn what their white male counterparts make in a year, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
Several myths surround the Latina pay gap, according to experts
Per Lean In, a global support network for women in the labor force, several misconceptions attempting to explain the Latina pay gay persist.
“We need to make room to hear Latinas and stop making assumptions about what they want for their career and what they can or cannot do,” said Laura Espriu, a talent development and DEI professional with Twitter, who immigrated to the US from Mexico seven years ago.
You do everything right, everything you’re supposed to do to reach the American dream. And it’s still not enough.Teresa Chavez, Occupational Therapist
The founder of a Seattle-based Latina Lean In network regularly works with women, telling Insider that assumptions often take the place of “workplaces asking Latinas what they want to be and how they can support them to get there.”
Espriu said she’s encountered several instances where people believe Latinas are “not ambitious enough” or assume that because Latinas can be family-oriented, that they would “prefer to stay where they are and that they wouldn’t be open to transferring to another place or traveling as much.”
Those in leadership can also underestimate Latinas who earned degrees outside of the US or who have accents, Espriu added, a phenomenon that contributes to an even larger wage gap. According to the NWLC, the wage gap is greatest for Latinas born in another country, who are paid about 38 cents ($0.51) to the dollar.
The pay gap impacts Latinas across education levels
Another recurring myth is that Latinas are paid less because they don’t have the same academic pedigree as their white colleagues, however the wage gap persists even when Latinas have more academic credentials than their peers, according to the NWLC. The legal organization reports that Latinas with a bachelor’s degree who work full-time year round jobs generally earn only $US52,037 ($AU69,749) per year, compared to non-Hispanic white men who generally earn $US54,620 ($AU73,211) with an associate’s degree.
Latinas with Master’s degrees also stand to lose more money throughout their lives than Latinas without this credential, showing that education is not enough to attenuate the pay gap, Diana Ramirez, senior manager of policy and coalitions at NWLC, told Insider.
“The average Latina loses $US1.2 ($AU2) million dollars in earnings throughout the course of her life,” Ramirez told Insider. “This number increases to about $US1.5 ($AU2) million for Latinas with Master’s degrees.”
Teresa Chavez, a Texas-based occupational therapist, is one Latina with a Master’s degree whose story underscores that advanced degrees don’t always translate to equal compensation.
Chavez said she had long-known that her white contemporaries were earning more than her for the same job.
But when she inquired about a pay raise with a supervisor, he instructed her to take a lower-paying job, touting its flexible hours that would enable her to spend more time with her children.
“You do everything right, everything you’re supposed to do to reach the American dream, and it’s still not enough,” Chavez told Insider. “Right now, I’m working two jobs and things are pretty tight and with loans coming back up, I’m going to have to pick up extra shifts to pay them.”
Perhaps the most common justification for why Latinas are continuously paid less than non-Hispanic white males, however, is the misguided assumption that Latinas solely work in low-wage jobs.
While it’s true that Latinas are over-represented in the service industry and other low-wage essential jobs, Latinas across industries are making less money.
Whether they’re being paid hourly as an occupational therapist like Chavez is, or earning a salaried income with the potential for a bonus based on billable hours as lawyers like Christine* do, Latinas across the board are being shortchanged.
“The way I was raised and the way my friends were raised, we were taught that if you just work really hard, it’ll pay off,” Christine, who requested that her last name not be published for privacy reasons, told Insider. “If you got even the smallest raise, it’s like ‘wow,’ but no one teaches you to ask, ‘well, what’s the other guy making?'”
The Latina pay gap has long-term and generational effects
The Latina pay gap will have long-term consequences and generational effects, affecting not only Latinas’ ability to save for retirement, but the livelihood of their immediate families and communities, Ramirez said.
“I took on student loans because my family couldn’t help pay for college and now that’s affecting my own kids,” Ramirez said.
“If I was paid what I was owed since I’ve been in the workforce since high school, maybe I wouldn’t have this mountain of student debt that takes a big chunk out of my salary and instead I could save for my kids’ college funds,” she added.
Ramirez pointed to her aunt, Chavez’s mother, as an example of the generational effects underpaying Latinas can have. Her aunt has cephalitis, a condition that causes brain inflammation, and is no longer able to work, which leaves her family responsible for her medical care.
“We had to open up a GoFundMe to pay for my mother’s medical expenses because she didn’t have health insurance or savings,” Chavez said of her mother, who used to work in day care centers before she became disabled.
Legislation and education can help address the Latina pay gap
Advocates like Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the NWLC, have been calling for legislation that holds workplaces accountable and the unionization of Latinas, but sometimes feel as though they are “screaming into the void.”
“There are definitely things we could be doing to hold employers accountable, including passing [The Paycheck Fairness Act] and strengthening equal pay laws in the state, but one of the best ways to address these paycheck disparities is unionizing,” Tucker said. “Latinas who are unionized experienced a larger bump in pay than any other group who unionizes.”
Right now there are approximately 500,000 fewer Latinas in the labor force than in February 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Tucker noted that investing in childcare infrastructure could go a long way in supporting Latinas, who often shoulder disproportionate care-giving responsibility, and who appear to drop out of the labor force at higher rates whenever school comes back into session.
Both Tucker and Ramirez also support instituting a minimum wage across the board, so that Latina essential workers don’t have to rely on tips to make ends meet – a dynamic that often leads to them getting sexually harassed at work.
“All of the problems in our economy, the racist and sexist structures that are in place, are laid bare right now,” Tucker said. “If we’re not going to fix it now, when it’s so obvious and everyone knows about it, then when are we going to do it?”
“The cost of doing too much right now is way less than the cost of not doing enough,” she added.