Women Healthcare Workers Deserve Fair and Equal Pay

Right now, women in healthcare are on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19, risking their safety every day to save the lives of those critically ill.

Yet, while women make up 78 percent of the healthcare field overall, they consistently make less than their male counterparts across the board. 

This national Equal Pay Day we want to recognize healthcare workers’ courage and hard work by drawing attention to the pay inequity they face.

Pictured: Registered nurse Vanie Boyajian vaccinates a child for polio at the Howard Karagheusian primary health care center, in Beirut, Lebanon on March 23, 2016. (World Bank / Creative Commons)

Racial and ethnic pay inequities compound the problem of the gender gap. Women of color make even less than their white female colleagues across all industries. 

On average, Black women make 65 percent of what white men earn, Hispanic women make 61 percent of what white men earn, while white women make 81 percent of what white men earn. 

The healthcare field is dominated by women—but research shows that when men, especially white men, join fields that have traditionally been dominated by women they are paid more, and rise through the ranks with more ease.

They are also more likely to be promoted to a supervisory position than a woman with similar experience and qualities.

On average men in the healthcare field earn around $86,219 a year, while women only make an average of $45,976 a year. 

Registered nurses make around $73,000 a year—or $30 an hour on average—while licensed practical nurses make about $20 an hour, or just about $44,000 a year. 

Even though men make up less than 10 percent of the nursing field they still make about $6,000 a year more than their female counterparts—regardless of level of education or experience.

Women healthcare workers, especially women of color, are vastly underpaid: Nursing assistants only make $26,268 a year or around $13.50 an hour, while personal care aides make and home health aides—who care for those who are too sick or elderly to leave their homes—make $22,000 a year or around $10 an hour.

Similarly, female paramedics make $40,872 a year, while their male counterparts make $51,532 a year—meaning women paramedics make 65.5 percent of what their male colleagues earn. 

These workers provide lifesaving, essential, compassionate care to millions yet are not paid a living wage.

Nurses sit around a table during a meeting.
A team of nurses discuss their daily schedule and duties, April 2012. (World Bank / Creative Commons)

An article, “In Demand and Undervalued—The Plight of American Healthcare Workers,” in the American Journal of Public Health, stated:

“In 2017, 1.7 million female health care workers and their children in the United States lived below the poverty line. More than 7% lacked health insurance. Many relied on public assistance for health care, food security, and housing.”

Healthcare workers of all genders, races and ethnicities nationwide are overwhelmed with patients ill with COVID-19, and are working around the clock to care for our family members, friends, and neighbors.  They are facing an outrageous shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) but are still showing up for every shift to face the ongoing pandemic that seems to have no end in sight. 

We want to salute all of the healthcare worker’s sacrifices and demand equal and better pay for women healthcare workers, particularly women of color, and we believe all first responders, healthcare workers, and hospital employees deserve higher salaries especially during this crisis. They are the heroes that have emerged during what is truly a frightening time in our country, and they deserve more than our admiration and thanks. 

Women healthcare workers deserve fair and equal pay, but all healthcare workers regardless of gender and race deserve higher wages, and even bonuses, during this pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Eleanor Smeal is president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. For over five decades, she has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women’s rights legislation, including the Equal Rights Amendment.