Today is Equal Pay Day.
Despite varying degrees of progress over the past several decades, women in the U.S. still take home about 80 cents to every dollar earned by a full-time male worker.
While today’s observance has, by definition, always symbolized the unfortunate reality of wage inequity in the United States and elsewhere, the situation is made even more concerning amid the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, which has so far infected nearly 167,000 people in the U.S. and killed more than 3,100.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended long-held beliefs regarding societal hierarchy. In the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, many of the workers the government has defined as “essential” have several significant attributes in common: They are low-income, were traditionally deemed “unskilled” and are women.
According to research by the National Women’s Law Center, women comprise two-thirds of the low-paid workforce in the country, often earning $12 or less per hour in roles such as grocery store cashiers, child care workers and home health aides.
What’s more, with 64% of mothers serving as the primary, sole or co-breadwinners of their families, according to data from the Center for American Progress, they are often stretching meager incomes across entire households. And these realities disproportionately impact African American and Hispanic women in particular.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, scores of minority women are in precarious circumstances. They’re either being forced to potentially jeopardize their health by attending their “essential” jobs at hospitals, grocery stores and fast-food restaurants or they’re being swept up in mass layoffs and furloughs as other low-paying jobs in retail and office administration implement cost-saving measures as the country teeters on the cusp of an economic recession.
Nordstrom, Macy’s, Kohl’s and DSW are among the many retailers that have furloughed a significant portion of their workforce as well as introduced executive pay cuts in hopes of buffering some of the economic impact of the coronavirus.
“This pandemic has made clear that we have long undervalued the essential work done by women in low-paid jobs — and now these women and their families are feeling the harsh effects of a gender wage gap that shortchanges them at a moment when they can least afford it,” said Emily Martin, NWLC VP for Education & Workplace Justice. “These women are getting hit the hardest by this public health crisis — and because of the gender wage gap, too many don’t have the nest egg that would make a big difference to them and their families as they’re given shorter schedules or are suddenly laid off as businesses shut down.”
She added, “This crisis should be a wake-up call for policymakers to ensure that we finally value the work that women do.”