Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

“Equal Pay Day” Masks Difficulties Black and Brown Women Face

Black women earned as much in the last 20 months as white men did in 2018.

Dear black women,

Congratulations! Today is your Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day represents how far into the year groups need to work to earn what white, non-Hispanic men earned the previous year. In 2019, White women celebrated Equal Pay Day in April. Asian women celebrated it in March. Native women will celebrate it in September. Latinx women will have to wait until the end of November.

As a woman of color, it is frustrating to see that I and other colleagues will have to work months longer to reach a white man’s annual wage. It is equally frustrating to be constantly overlooked yet be thrown into blanket pronouncements that attempt to show or express equality and solidarity, as if all women of all races were seen as equal. This happened on April 2, the Equal Pay Day for all women versus all men. If you take race out of the equation, it hides how many more hurdles women of color face than white women.

Similar blanket solidarity statements occur with women’s right to vote. Every year, I see Facebook memes, pictures of the suffrage movement, and images of the American flag, “Celebrating 100 years that women got the right to vote …” Actually, 100 years ago, white women got the right to vote. Black and Latinx women did not fully get the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act in 1965 – and those rights are increasingly under attack today.

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As we work to pass policies to ensure equal pay for women, we must ensure that we don’t put forth universal, or “color blind” policies that seem to accomplish equity, but keep disparities intact – for example, policies oriented toward professional women who work in an office, but leave out women who do shift work in restaurants, retail, or in people’s homes.

We must push for targeted universalist policies that work harder for those who need it most, to bring everyone to the same level. These policies take a deeper look at the data, allowing strong facts to tell the story. Policies that would target women like those who do shift work.

Targeted universalism is goal-oriented, and the processes are directed in service of this explicit, collective goal.

To ensure that women got closer to equal pay, Washington State recently passed a law that prevents employers from asking for salary history from a prospective employee –which typically only happens in white-collar professions—where women of color are less likely to be represented. This is a universal policy because it assumes it will help all women. Considering that in our state, women of color fare worse than the national average, it makes sense to use targeted universalism.  Through this method, you’ll learn that black women actually get paid 62 percent of what a white man makes, and Latinx women make less than 50 percent. This means that Latinx women will have to work two full years to make what a white man gets in just one year. This data paints a drastic picture–women of color fall way behind in the economic latter compared to their white counter parts. Perhaps in the coming years we can advocate for more equitable policies for all women or spend time working more than one policy to ensure equality.

The practice of universal or “color blind” policies for gender equity will only advance equity for white women and will continue to leave women of color behind.

Advocates, state legislatures, city councils and anyone working to create equity for women and any other oppressed groups should practice targeted universalism when working on public policies.

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