Today — nine months into the year — is Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day, showing that even in 2018, white men in the United States still make dramatically more money than women of color on average.
Native American women make only 57 cents for every dollar that white men make. They would need to work nine extra months just to make what their white male counterparts earn in a year, making Sept. 27 the day that Native American women’s earnings finally catch up to the salaries white men were paid in 2017.
This means that if a Native American woman and her white male counterpart both began working at the age 20, she would have to work until the age of 90 to earn the same amount her counterpart would have made by age 60, the National Women’s Law Center reports.
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In 1963, the Equal Pay Act made it illegal for employers to pay their workers lower wages solely because of their gender. Yet nearly 60 years later, the wage gap still disproportionately affects women today. Women, as a whole, make up two-thirds of America’s minimum wage workers, and white women make 79 cents for every dollar a white man makes.
For women of color, that gap is even wider. Native American women lose out on about $24,000 every year due to wage discrimination, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The pay disparity between Native American women and white men in the US makes up the second largest wage gap in comparison to other ethnic groups — the largest wage gap exists between Latina women and white men.
What makes the pay inequality Native American women face even more alarming is that they are very often the breadwinners of their families. In fact, 2 in 3 Native women are the heads of their households, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, .
Because of systemic barriers and discrimination Native Americans face as a result of colonization and displacement, the community has higher levels of poverty. One in four Native Americans lives in poverty, according to the Pew Research Center, making the poverty rate amongst Native Americans almost double the national average.
Many Native Americans also live on reservations, which hold cultural significance and offer communities some autonomy, but are often isolated with high unemployment rates and low educational attainment rates. These reservations are in rural, closed-off areas, and tend to be further from colleges and public transportation.
However, as transportation and infrastructure have improved over the past few decades, more Native American women have been able to further their education. The amount of Native American women enrolled in colleges and universities increased by almost 200% between 1976 and 2006 according to the National Congress of American Indians, while he number of Native women earning master's, doctoral, and professional degrees also increased by 400%.
Despite these massive gains in education attainment, higher education has not been enough to combat the wage gap Native American women face.
A Native American woman with a master's degree makes only about $52,000 — approximately the same amount a white man with just an associate's degree is paid, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). Even with a professional or doctoral degree, a Native American woman still makes about 55 cents to the dollar in comparison to a white man with the same degree, according to the NWLC.
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On top of being paid less than almost every other ethnic group in the US, Native Americans have seen the largest decline in wages among women in the past decade. The Institute of Women’s Policy Research found that the median annual income for Native Americans who worked full-time for a year fell by 5.8%, more than three times the amount that women’s overall earnings decreased.
Equal Pay Day is an important way to bring awareness to the wage disparities. However, women of color are uniquely and disproportionately affected by this. Whether you are an advocate or an ally, this Native American Women’s Equal Pay day, help close the gap and create awareness about income inequality.