Latinas Aren’t the Problem. Stop Putting the Pay Gap Problem on Us.

In the past decade, the Latina pay gap has widened to 49 cents to the dollar, compared to what’s paid to white non-Hispanic men.

Monica Ramirez, founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women and the co-founder of The Latinx House, joins advocates on Capitol Hill on Dec. 1, 2022, in support of The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act—one example of legislation in front of Congress that could help end pay disparities for women workers. (Paul Morigi / Getty Images for A Better Balance)

Let’s not get it twisted. Every year as we plan for the National Latina Equal Pay Day of Action, I dread several things.

  1. The fact that we have to observe a pay day at all to call out the unequal pay that Latinas receive in our country.
  2. People get the data wrong every single year. (I admit it can be confusing, but a little fact-checking goes a long way.)
  3. We face gaslighting, when well-meaning people try to tell Latinas that we are part of the problem. They tell us we should have picked different jobs, chosen different career paths, negotiated better, taken better control of our finances—the list goes on.  

Let’s be clear: The reason we observe Latina Equal Pay Day every year is because it is imperative to name that employers of all kinds are not paying Latinas equitably. And, no matter what way we slice and dice the data, Latinas working in every sector and in every industry, regardless of education level, are being paid less than our male counterparts. What this means is that, on average, all Latinas with reported earnings in 2021 were paid 54 cents to the dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic male workers.

Whether it is because decisions have been made to deliberately discriminate against Latinas, because implicit bias has impacted pay decisions, or because employers are using prior discriminatory salaries to set a Latina worker’s current pay (note: this is against the law in some states!), the reality is that it is not our fault that we have been underpaid. Business people love it when we play into their hand by trying to help address the pay gap when we establish training programs to teach Latinas how to do better, be better, or act more savvy. 

No matter what way we slice and dice the data, Latinas working in every sector and in every industry, regardless of education level, are being paid less than our male counterparts.

I love education and training. I consider myself a life-long learner—but there is nothing that I could have learned or “done better” to make an employer decide to do right by me. In fact, most people who are underpaid do not even realize it. 

Even if a Latina is aware that she is being underpaid, why should the onus be on her to fix it? Why does this labor belong to us? Employers are legally obligated not to discriminate against their workers because of their gender, race or ethnicity in most cases, depending on the number of people the business employs. Aside from being the law, it’s the right thing to do and it makes the most economic sense. Everyone knows that when an employee is valued and treated fairly, this will have a positive impact on their work—yielding better results for the employer.

In the past decade, the Latina pay gap has widened to 49 cents to the dollar, compared to what’s paid to white non-Hispanic men.

This Latina Equal Pay Day, there will be folks who will say that we need to ask for more. They are wrong. Employers need to do better, and so do our political leaders.

There is nothing Latinas could have “done better” to avoid the massive losses experienced in 2020, when we were pushed out of the labor market during the COVID pandemic. We got sick, had increased caregiving responsibilities, and disproportionately worked jobs without the benefits or support needed to keep our jobs and survive the pandemic. More Latinas were pushed out of the labor market than any other demographic during that time period—resulting in the huge dip we are witnessing.

The good news is many Latinas have been able to return to the workforce—but it is not our fault that we were pushed out in the first place.

We are observing Latina Equal Pay Day on Dec. 8, a date set to ensure we observe the pay gap, discuss the solutions, and push the leaders who should be making the changes to do their jobs. Let’s be sure we are putting the responsibility on the right people when we are calling for an end to the pay disparities that exist.

Congress needs to pass stronger laws, like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

State legislatures need to pass pay equity bills and other laws that directly impact the career-long pay gap that Latinas experience.

And, employers need to take actions to ensure that they are following the law. They should check their bias and create measures to determine whether bias is impacting their decisions about pay, opportunities for training and advancement for Latinas and all of their workforce. It will yield returns for the employer and the working Latinas who make these businesses prosperous.

As for Latina workers, let’s learn to negotiate because we want to feel more in control of our own financial circumstances. And let’s get more training on the things that we think will help us be better at our jobs and more fulfilled in our careers—because we want those things for ourselves, not because we are somehow also taking on the responsibility that employers already bear. Remember, Latinas are already holding up our families, our workplaces and our communities. 

Let’s do ourselves a favor and leave the work of making sure that Latinas are being paid fairly, to the people who can actually make sure that it happens. We are holding enough. It’s time for others to do their jobs.

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Mónica Ramírez is the founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women, and the co-founder of The Latinx House.