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Latina women suffer worst from wage gap

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Latina women suffer worst from wage gap
Migdalia Diaz, chief operating officer of ALPFA (center), said companies often exhibit uncommon bias. Also presenting: Ann Bookman, director of the center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the McCormack Graduate School (left) and Yvette Villa-Barry, co-president of AAUW’s North Shore Area branch.

Among the major demographics experiencing gender and racial wage gaps, Latina women are the hardest hit in both Massachusetts and the nation. To earn the same amount as a white men did in 2014, Latinas as a whole would have to work approximately ten months more, only catching up by October 8, 2015, reports the American Association of University Women.

That was the day the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators and the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus convened a Latina Equal Pay Day briefing.

A variety of factors contribute to the wage gap, said speakers: circumstances push many Latinas into traditionally lower-wage jobs, many companies exhibit unconscious bias in hiring and promotion and Latina women frequently are the main — or sole — supporter of parents and children. With low wages going to support many other lives, Latina women are less able to save for college or retirement and face fewer opportunities for breaking the cycle of poverty.

This month California passed the Fair Pay Act to require employers to justify higher wages for male workers, protect employees who ask about others’ salaries and allow employees to sue if they perform largely equivalent work to someone with a different job title but receive less pay. Massachusetts is considering — but has yet to pass — similar legislation.

One paycheck, many lives

Across the board, women earn less.

In Massachusetts, women as a whole earn 81 cents for every dollar a man earns and African American women earn 61 cents, said Ann Bookman, PhD, director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the McCormack Graduate School, UMass Boston.

Latinas have it worst: on average in Massachusetts, they earn just half of what men do, said Bookman.

The ripple effects are felt not just by the women but by their entire families. Increasingly, Latinas represent a major source of income for their families. In 1975, 23.1 percent of Latinas were breadwinners, said Bookman, whereas today, the number of Latinas bringing in at least half of the family income has jumped to 40 percent, not counting single mothers.

The women often support not only children but parents as well, said Yvette Villa-Barry, co-president of the North Shore Area branch of the AAUW.

“Many of us — be it Latino or African American — many of us are the single breadwinner in our homes,” said state Rep. Russell Holmes. “When that is the case and we have this disparity between white and Latino, it is an issue that really drives down our communities.”

If the wage gap between Latinas and white, non-Hispanic men in the U.S. were eliminated, on average a Latina working full time would earn over 26 additional months of rent or more than 183 more weeks of food for her family per year, reports the National Partnership for Women & Families.

This is a significant issue for the state: Hispanics comprise ten percent of Massachusetts’ residents, according to a report issued by Bookman.

Lifelong loss

Bookman said the effects stretch throughout a Latina’s lifespan. Caught in this system of reduced resources, many Latinas may never be able to retire, afford higher education or send their children to college.

“[The wage disparity] not only affects their ability to support their children and family today but also affects three areas from early childhood and adolescence to late in life,” said Bookman.

Because Latina women make less, their Social Security earnings are less as well. The poverty rate for Latinas over 60 is 43.7 percent, 28.7 percent higher than that for white women, said Bookman.

Career ‘choice’

A common refrain is that women earn less because they choose lower paying jobs.

Seeming to support this: there are large showings of Latinas in traditionally low-wage occupations.

On the Web

For further data, visit: Ann Bookman’s testimony on Equal Pay Act: https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/imag es/mgs/mgs_publicpolicy/PayTestimony_Bookman_July_21_Hearing_(1).pdf

National Partnership for Women and Families’ fact sheet: http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/workplace-fairness/fair-pay/latinas-wage-gap.pdf

A third of Hispanic women are employed in service jobs compared to 20 percent among white non-Hispanic women, reports the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. In 2014, Massachusetts cashiers on average earned $20,180; sixty-five percent of these cashiers were women.

However, Bookman emphasizes, it is false to suggest that these poorly paying jobs are a choice. Frequently, she said, the choice is between taking low-earning jobs or not working at all, thus failing to support themselves or their families.

”Across the board women of color are more likely than white women to be shunted into lower-earning occupations,” she said. “A lot of Latina women and other women do not have as many jobs open to them that have this pay equity.”

One reason for the lack of opportunity: no college degree.

In 2014, more than half of all Hispanic women in the workforce had no more than a high school diploma (21.9 percent had not completed high school), according to the Women’s Bureau report. This lower-education level locks them out of many better paying jobs, yet many simply cannot afford the tuition or to take time away from work to attend.

“When you have so many Latina women with so little money, college is just not an opportunity,” Bookman said.

Even women who rise high face disparities.

In 2013, full-time female financial managers, lawyers and computer programmers made paid 70 percent, 79 percent and 81 percent as of what their male counterparts did in their median weekly earnings, according to a report issued by the AAUW.

Women’s workshops

Villa-Barry said women can learn skills to help them negotiate for a better salary.

For instance, she said, if possible, people should avoid revealing their current salary information during job interviews. Companies typically base salary offerings on an individual’s past job compensation, even though that is unlikely to indicate what is fair compensation at the new position.

“They [employers] will give you a percentage on your last job,” Villa-Barry said. “It will be irrelevant to whatever your colleagues are making within the same position.”

This practice can also punish women disproportionately, because with the existing gender wage gap, their past jobs are likely to pay less than compensation for male hires’.

Villa-Barry’s organization is partnering with Mayor Martin Walsh to provide salary negotiation workshops in Boston for women over the next five years. AAUW also will offer Work Smart workshops at colleges outside the city, she said.

Company bias

Midgalia Diaz, chief operating officer of the Association of Latino Professionals For America, said training women to promote and negotiate for themselves cannot fix everything. A major focus, she said, needs to be on forcing companies to eliminate unconscious bias expressed in whom they choose to hire and advance.

For example, she said, while president of ALPFA, she once asked a male member to create a list of Latinos who deserved awards. The man proposed several people: all men. When asked if any women were equally qualified, he named four.

Diaz pointed to the fact that the man instinctively only thought of men as an indication of bias.

“I said, ‘Why weren’t they on the list in the first place? If the first person you think of is a man, I need you to consider that there’s a bias there,’ ” Diaz recounted.

The man, Diaz said, had been surprised and upset. He told her he had a wife and daughter that he wanted the best for. Since being made aware of this, Diaz said, the man now makes sure to consider women for positions.

“The conversation goes like this,” said Diaz. “‘We’re not asking you to consider women that are not qualified, we’re saying there are women that are qualified and should be considered.’”

Waiting for legislation

Holmes said a pending bill aims to narrow wages gaps. If passed, it would protect workers from retaliation for discussing salaries, forbid employers from requesting past pay history and clarify an existing law that states how employers must report pay.

Another element: job ads must post the minimum salary and meet or exceed it. If starting salaries were listed in ads, it would help protect employees from settling for lowballed salaries, said Villa-Barry.

Bookman called for action. “Let’s not let the upcoming generation of Latina girls experience the disparities of their mothers and the missed opportunities,” she said.