Equal Pay–for all Women and LGBTQ People
Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the law that finally forbid employers from paying certain workers less on the basis of their sex. While the EPA was groundbreaking legislation for its time, its promise — to bring economic equality to the sexes — has yet to be fulfilled.
While the average woman made 62% as much as the average man at the time the EPA was passed, today, as a white woman, I can expect to earn 78 cents for each dollar that a white man makes. Although“78 cents to the dollar” is often the rallying cry for equal pay, this number doesn’t paint the full picture. White women and Asian women earn 78% as much as white men. Black women, however, can expect to earn 64% as much as white men while Latinas can expect to make only 54% as much. (1)
This conflation of white women’s experiences with that of all women is harmful to everyone. Kimberly Freeman Brown, the author of And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders Voices, Power and Promise identifies Black women as “miners’ canaries.” (2) Like canaries that warned miners of poisonous gasses before the workers were affected, “Black women have [long] experienced many of the economic and social ills now faced by others.” Colorblindness not only fails to pinpoint social and economic issues that affect us all, but also, in the words of Freeman Brown, “reinforces [a] belief that the experiences of black women are not important enough unless attached to others.”
Economic inequality is only compounded as marginalized identities intersect. Queer and trans people — particularly queer and trans people of color — are more likely to be living in poverty than straight and cisgender people (3). Trans women are four times more likely to earn less than $10,000 annually than the general population. (4)(5) Moreover, while sex and race are both demographic categories that receive legal protection, queer and trans identities lack federal protection and are often overlooked in state and local laws.
The Equal Pay Act was only the first step; over fifty years later, it’s time to carry on the work that it was intended to start. On a policy level, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act and Senator Merkley’s soon-to-be-introduced comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill (6) may help close the wage gaps that persist. Legislation that creates opportunities for affordable education and accessible childcare can continue removing barriers to equal pay that anti-discrimination policies can’t reach. Companies can do their part by proactively monitoring their payroll for disparities and promoting diversity in hiring and promoting. Individuals looking to promote equal pay can educate themselves and others on equal pay issues and contact their representatives to advocate for the passage of legislation that can help break down pay gaps.
For more information on equal pay, stay tuned for updates on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day (July 28), Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day (September 8). and Latinas’ Equal Pay Date (October 8).
By Laura Wooley, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow