The Equal Pay Day was commemorated on March 21 this 2020, marking the date of how far into the year the average woman must work to keep up with the amount a man earned a year prior, stated Courtney Connley of Make It CNBC, a news site dedicated to publishing articles on getting smarter about how individuals can earn, save, and spend money.
Full-time working women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, amounting to $407,760 of lost wages, as said by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), a non-profit organization, cited Connley. The wage gap is even worse for women of color. It is said that black, Native American, and Latina women earn 62 cents, 57 cents, and 54 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns, respectively.
As countries grapple with the rapid spread of COVID-19, the Equal Pay Day is celebrated not to remind us that women deserve to be paid equally. But we must also remember to better protect low-wage workers, majority of whom are women and are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Gender Pay Gap Affects Women on the Frontlines of COVID-19
93% of women are childcare workers, followed by registered nurses (88%), home health and personal care aides (85%), and grocery store cashiers/salespeople (66%), according to NWLC. These are some examples of frontline occupations. Women’s median annual earnings from working as registered nurses are $65,000 (versus to men’s median annual earnings of $71,000).
Women who are home health and personal care aides earn $25,000 compared to their male colleagues ($30,000). Women who work as grocery store cashiers/salespeople ($24,000 versus $27,000) and child care workers ($22,000 versus $27,000) earn less than their male peers
Meanwhile, examples of industries shedding workers include women (88%) who work as maids and housekeepers in traveler accommodations along with waiters and waitresses, 70% of whom are women. 77% of them work as clothing/shoe stores cashiers/salespeople, and 66% are hotel/motel desk operators.
Waiters earn a median annual income of $28,000 compared to waitresses ($22,000). Men working in clothing/shoe stores cashiers/salespeople also earn $28,000 unlike their female colleagues ($25,000). Women who work as maids and housekeepers in traveler accommodations earn only $23,000 compared to men ($28,000). Men who are hotel/motel desk clerks receive a median annual income of $25,000 compared to their female colleagues, who only earn $24,000 each year.
Since women of color occupy a majority of low-wage roles, Maya Raghu, a wage expert at NWLC, noted that the pay gap is correlated to gender and racial wealth gaps in the US. She added, “If you are in a low-paying job, you’re living paycheck to paycheck.” It is harder to save money that can help the person become wealthier if they are shortchanged due to the gender pay gap.
The Impact of Low Wages and No Benefits to Workers
The COVID-19 pandemic sheds light on the uneven economic structures of the country, emphasizing the need to foster equity, stated Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women. 68.3% of black mothers are the sole breadwinners (versus 16.1% of those who are co-breadwinners) for their household, followed by other races/ethnicity (31.9% versus 24.5%), Hispanic (41% versus 19.3%), and white (36.8% versus 25.6%), reported Sarah Jane Glynn of Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization.
Since their income is essential to their families’ financial security, women occupying low-wage roles experience financial crisis due to child-care centers, restaurants, and hotels shutting or closing down because of the outbreak.
Churches reminded, “As we think about this pandemic and the long-term economic impact, you know women in these roles don’t have savings, they don’t have wealth access to credit and women overall are more likely than men to be poor or struggling economically.”
Underscoring the Need for Employee Benefits
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2019 National Compensation Survey (NCS) found that 51% of workers earning wages in the lowest quarter (hourly wages of $13.80 or less) had access to some form of paid sick leave, compared to 92% of workers in the top quarter (greater than $32.21 per hour), mentioned Drew Desilver of Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank. Among those earning $10.80 an hour or less, only 31% had paid sick leave.
The federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide paid leave to employees of government agencies and companies with 500 or fewer workers. Pew Research Center said 91% of employees who work for companies with 500 or more had access to paid leave, compared to those working with employer sizes of 100 to 499 employees (81%), 50 to 99 (71%), and one to 49 (64%). However, there is no bill that protects the rights of all employees to have access to paid leave.
Raghu argued that there is a need for legal, policy, and cultural changes to help women transition from low-wage jobs to careers that enable them to advance in the workplace. She said more women should be provided with permanent paid sick leave, paid family and medical leaves— and not just for emergencies.
A Reminder Low Wage Workers Are Not “Low Skill”
We tend to stereotype low-wage workers to be “low-skill,” reinforcing the belief that they lack the intelligence and ambition to learn “higher-order” skilled work, said Byron Auguste of business news Forbes. People tend to assume that the work and tasks low-wage employees do are low-value. Other than a skills gap, there is also an opportunity gap that screens out job seekers who lack selective college degrees and professional experience. This prevents them from being hired for what they are prepared to do at work, as well as the skills they learn along the way.
As we continue to misjudge the capabilities of low-wage workers, we are also stopping ourselves from fostering the values of fairness and equality of opportunity. Moreover, existing stereotypes against low-wage workers stop them from contributing, sharing, and earning more work, ideas, and wages.
A person’s wage does not define their worth. Regardless of one’s occupation, all meaningful work that aids in the advancement of society deserves dignity. Undervaluing the work done by low-wage workers is often untrue and unfair and hinders the society from seeing a brighter economic future.
Low-wage workers such as cashiers are in the frontlines serving our needs during the outbreak. We should not devalue their work just because their occupations are low-wage. In fact, they should be treated equally and with respect— that would mean closing the gender pay gap and providing equal access to paid leaves.