Latinas Face Ongoing Challenges in the Workforce

Hispanic Community March 2023 PREMIUM
Hispanic/Latino women still face inequality in terms of equal pay compared to white non-Hispanic men in the US and they will not enjoy it until 2206, according to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. They earn $28,911 less per year on average than white males. Education is the way out.

Latinas who are searching for equal pay to white men are going to be waiting a long time. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research published a report in October of 2021 indicating that Hispanic women will not enjoy equal pay to white men until the year 2206. It pointed out that Latina women who worked full time year-round were paid just 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in 2019. On average, they earned $28,911 less per year than white males. If progress continues at the same rate as it has since 1985, Latinas will not reach equal pay with white, non-Hispanic men for another 185 years.

If that’s not discouraging enough, Latinas have seen little progress in equal pay over the past decade and, according to the US Department of Labor, experience the largest wage gap of any major racial or ethnic group.

The Education Strategy

There are several reasons for this inequity, one of which is educational opportunity. According to the US Department of Labor, Latinas are less likely than other groups to complete education beyond high school. Even within each academic level, their wages remain relatively low compared with white men. About a quarter of Latinas (26.6 percent) hold a college degree, compared to about half of white women (51.4 percent) and more than one-in-three  white men (44.3 percent).

Before the US was slammed with the pandemic, college enrollment was on an upswing among Latinas. But of all US ethnic and racial groups, minority or otherwise, the pandemic hit Latinas, and Hispanics in general, the hardest. Early in the pandemic, Hispanic enrollment fell 5.4 percentage points.

Ariane Hegewisch, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), says education plays a significant role in earning potential and is a strategy that Latinas should continue to employ to ensure their economic security. “But there remains a substantial wage gap even if you control for education. That is, if you only compare the earnings of Latinas with BA degrees to white, non-Hispanic men with BAs -  and that’s because of discrimination,” says Hegewisch.

Latinas are less likely to work for America’s highest paying firms and because of the undervaluation of women’s jobs - like teaching, for example - they earn less. Undervalued service sector jobs, like health care, care work, and cleaning occupations, although essential to the US economy, pay far less than male-dominated occupations at similar levels of training and education. So, because they lack the education that their white peers have access to, Latinas simply work in lower paying professions.

A Crushing Blow

While the pandemic profoundly affected college enrollment, especially for Hispanics, it also led to the so-called “she-cession.” As the pandemic spread across the US, many Latinas received pink slips, and those who were not dismissed had their hours slashed. Their low annual earnings meant they had fewer financial resources stashed away to draw upon when they found themselves out of work, or earning less because of reduced hours.

The US Department of Labor indicates that Hispanic women experienced the steepest initial employment losses of any major group early in the pandemic. In April 2020, almost one-quarter fewer Hispanic women were working relative to just before the pandemic.

Working in essential public-facing jobs, like leisure and hospitality, childcare, and nursing care, increased Latinas’ exposure to COVID-19. Hispanics were 1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts, and 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized. To make matters worse, these public-facing jobs were the most likely to be lost during COVID, says Hegewisch.

Latinas can recover from this crushing blow, Hegewisch says, but they set their sights at a higher level within  America’s workforce. “The goal is not just to get back to where they were before the pandemic, like those low wage jobs, but to get into better jobs, and better paying jobs,” says Hegewisch. She says there are far more opportunities than in the past if Latinas want to roll up their sleeves and give up working in the care professions. Today all women are now more likely to work in transportation, construction, and centers such as Amazon, where hourly wages are substantially higher than in childcare,” says Hegewisch.

Lack of Benefits

Segregation into low-paying, low-quality jobs leaves many Latinas without the essential benefits many Americans have come to expect from their employers, like paid leave, according to the IWPR report. During the pandemic, Latinas were much more likely than members of other groups to require leave from work, whether their employers paid for that leave or not. Regardless of their work situations, Latinas were called upon to care for ill family members far more than their white counterparts during the pandemic. Nearly twenty-three percent of Hispanic women cared for sick relatives during the pandemic, compared to only 8.3 percent of the overall population. Latinas also had to care for children who were not sick during the pandemic. Nearly ten percent of Hispanic women had to take time off from work to look after their children during school closings and quarantine situations, compared to only 5.9 of parents overall.

Most jobs held by Latinas are not backed by strong unions.  Latinas lucky enough to secure jobs that are unionized earn more than their non-union counterparts. On average, Latinas working under a union contract make $263 (38.5 percent) more per week than non-unionized Latinas. Union jobs also offer women other perks, like more robust employer-sponsored benefits. Unfortunately, just 10.7 percent of Latina workers are represented by a union, compared to 11.7 percent of white women, 13.3 percent of black women, 14.6 percent of black men, and 12.2 percent of white men, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the C Suite

Discrimination in hiring and promotion are important contributors to pay inequality. Thus, Latinas who experience the widest  wage gap are  those who aspire to climb to the highest rungs of the corporate ladder. According to IWPR’s 2021 report, Climbing the Leadership Ladder, Black and Latina women are more underrepresented in leadership positions than any segment of the US population. Latinas make up 7.7 percent of the workforce but hold only 4.4 percent of its managerial positions and just 1.7 percent of its chief executive positions.

Black women hold just four percent of all managerial positions and 1.4 percent of chief executive positions. In comparison, white men hold more than sixty percent of the chief executive positions in the US, even though they make up only one third of the workforce. 

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