Oct. 21 marks another annual observation of Latina Equal Pay Day, which represents how far into the year Latinas, on average, needed to work to make up what White men made in the previous year. In other words, Latinas had to work, on average, nearly 22 months to earn what White men did in 12 months, because they typically make 57 cents for every dollar a White man makes. What’s more, this is the last Equal Pay Day of the year — which means that, on average, Latinas are paid less than White women, Asian women, Black women and Indigenous women.
This year, the numbers reflect the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. In a 2020 study by the Economic Policy Institute, Latinas were found to be the most likely to lose their job and least likely to be able to work from home during the pandemic. The study also found that Latino workers were more likely to have less economic security than White workers and lower access to health care; they were also less likely to have access to covid relief benefits, such as stimulus checks.
“The fact is that Latinos face a pay gap that has barely budged in the last 30 years,” said Lauren Babb, chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women. “Having such a large population [of Latinos] in California, it’s even more crippling. What we’ve learned is that Latinas are the fabric of the American workforce.”
Indeed, Latina women often work in jobs that require them to face the public or be in close proximity with colleagues. Margaret T. Brower, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, has spent her academic career researching inequities affecting Black and Latina women. She explained that a majority of Latinas are in retail, hospitality and domestic services — some of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. What’s more, she said, these jobs often lack “opportunities for health insurance, good health benefits or paid leave benefits.”
Brower said that during the pandemic, Latinas from many communities listed caregiving as their biggest exposure to covid-19. Almost one-third of domestic workers in the United States are Latina, and that doesn’t include the unpaid caregiving many do within their families. “When we think about the cultural expectations that exist for Latinx women and the industries that they’re working in, they’re going to have different risks and policy needs,” Brower said.
Collecting data on Latina women can be tricky, experts say, because of some Latino people’s undocumented status. And although Mexican Americans form a majority of the Latinx community, people come from many countries, and there are nuances between their levels of access and ability to gain opportunity.
Pay inequity and lack of opportunity also span industries. Kayden Phoenix is a comic artist, film director and founder of the Chicana Director’s Initiative. She said that Latina directors don’t just grapple with equal pay; access is a major deterrent for them to simply be able to get their foot in the door. “If we don’t even get through the door, how are we going to negotiate a contract?” she said. “The obstacle is opportunity, and opportunity comes hand-in-hand with experience.”
Phoenix once went as far as using her own car and equipment to shoot footage to prove she’s qualified to direct car commercials, she said. But the high cost of filming has continued to prevent many Latina directors from breaking into certain genres, she said: “Why do you never see any Latina films in science fiction? We can’t afford it. $50,000 for a short film is so crazy.”
The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has long collected data on a lack of representation in Hollywood. Its September report found that out of the 1,300 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2019, only three were directed by women of Latino or Hispanic descent.
Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez, founder of Zero-Based Budget, is a lawyer and finance coach who focuses on using her knowledge to help other first-generation immigrants and people of color. Like many others, she worked hard to obtain her law degree and came out of the experience with $200,000 in student loan debt, she said. “I checked off all the checkboxes, but I didn’t have financial literacy,” Zuniga-Sanchez said. “I didn’t know how to pay down my debt or how to manage my credit.”
For now, it seems systemic pay inequities are entrenched: It’s projected to take 200 years for Latinas to reach pay equity. But rectifying a lack of financial literacy is an important step to combating that systemic inequality, Zuniga-Sanchez said. Here are some expert tips for where Latinas and their allies can start.
Talk about your salary. “If you find out that your White, male co-worker is making $20,000 more than you, that is now information that you can use to very rightfully argue in favor of your own pay increase,” Zuniga-Sanchez said.
Remember your brilliance. “Most of us had to learn how to be resilient and creative and brave in ways that no one will understand. It’s important that we remember how great we are. Any organization or company is lucky to have us, and even though history and lots of policies of exclusion have tried to tell us otherwise, it’s really not true. These institutions benefit from our expertise, our unique experiences, our experiences with diversity, and I try to always remember that,” said Brower.
Hire fellow Latinas. “If you want to change, you’ve got to be part of the change,” Phoenix said. She encourages Latina directors to hire Latina crew members and talent on their sets, and her organization even provides small grants to directors who do.