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Safety and Dignity at Work: Why Equal Pay Matters

March 24, 2021

Today, the nation commemorates Equal Pay Day: the symbolic day into each new year where a woman working full-time, year-round finally earns the same amount of money that her male counterparts were paid in the previous year alone. Currently, all women typically make 82 cents on the dollar as compared to all white, non-Hispanic men—meaning that it takes women almost 15 months to make what men make in 12 months.

All women deserve access to safety and dignity at work, and low pay and the pay gap are parts of a larger system of discrimination that leaves many women—especially women of color—vulnerable. This day comes barely a week after a shooter in Georgia took the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian American women targeted based on hatred for their race, gender, and occupation as massage workers. We mourn with, and are in solidarity with, the families and communities suffering from hatred and violence.

As the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) reminds us, Asian American women in low-wage jobs are particularly vulnerable to racist and sexist harassment and violence, since they are more likely to work in jobs that require them to work alone and in isolated areas, work at night, and work for tips in low-paying jobs, among other exacerbating and hazardous conditions. NAPAWF reports that Asian American women have consistently reported 2-3 times more incidents of harassment and violence than men. And, according to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence, Asian families are also struggling with disproportionately high unemployment rates during the pandemic, which also leads to pay disparities. 

While this day is about looking at pay overall, we cannot talk about the “typical” wage gap without acknowledging that women of color face some of the greatest disparities and are segregated into some of the nation’s lowest-paying, yet most-essential, jobs. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men:

  • Asian American and Pacific Islander women are paid 85 cents, with some communities earning far less. For example, Vietnamese women are paid 67 cents, Hmong women are paid 61 cents, and Burmese women are paid only 52 cents.
  • Black women are paid 63 cents.
  • Native American women are paid 60 cents.
  • Latinas are paid 55 cents.

Safety and dignity at work are about pay inequity and the conditions under which people work. Unequal, dangerous, and exploitative working conditions directly impact pay and safety for workers, especially for women and non-binary individuals.

For domestic violence survivors of color, losing money with every paycheck can have devastating financial impacts across their lifetimes. Financial abuse occurs in 99 percent of domestic violence cases, and survivors often struggle to safely leave and support themselves and their children after experiencing this type of violence. The wage gap only compounds this struggle for survivors of color, leaving many with an impossible decision between risking homelessness and returning to their abusive partners.

Therefore, there are a host of necessary economic justice reforms Congress must undertake, including, but not limited to: swiftly passing equal pay legislation, higher wages for workers, paid sick and safe leave, and other direct economic supports, and eliminating the subminimum wage and unnecessary credit checks. Closing the pay gap and raising wages are necessary undertakings, and they must be combined with long-term, deep-rooted efforts to reject all forms of systemic racism and sexism, to address violence in all its forms, and to ensure that all people who experience discrimination on the basis of their identities and lived experiences (including survivors of domestic violence) have access to dignity and safety at work.