Washington Area Women's Foundation

Equal Pay Day: Gender Wage Gap is a Chasm for Women of Color

As we approached Equal Pay Day (April 9th), a number of bloggers and organizations were asked to write about what they’d do with an additional $11,000. That’s how much more the average woman would earn per year if her pay were equal to a man’s.

If she were a woman of color, however, that gap would be even greater. In the Washington region, the median earnings for black women are over $37,000 less than that of white men ($46,138 vs. $83,299). For Latinas, the gap is more than $52,000 ($30,831 vs. $83,299). Asian women have median earnings of $48,891 – over $34,000 less than the earnings of white men.*

If women’s incomes matched those of white men, what would that additional money mean for women of color in our community? It would be more than enough to fund an entire associate’s degree at a local community college. It would fund more than half of a bachelor’s degree at some local universities. It would send three children to a really high-quality preschool in DC. And it would cover the cost of a two-bedroom apartment in the District. It could provide more reliable transportation and could fund afterschool activities and trips. Something could be set aside for the inevitable emergencies life throws everyone’s way, and investments could be made.

In addition to funding the basic needs of themselves and their families, these women would be putting a staggering amount of money back into our community. In our report, 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area, we shared that nearly two million women live in the DC region. Fifty-three percent of them are Asian, black or Latina – that’s about one million. If just half of them had an income that matched the median earnings of white men, they’d have a combined income of $42 trillion. And that’s only half! Imagine if all women across the area were compensated as well as men….

That money would support families, be spent at local businesses, and could be invested in assets across our region that would build better neighborhoods and ultimately a better community. A significant portion would go to the federal government and – given the fact that women donate an average of 3.5 percent of their wealth – the nonprofit community would see some pretty significant changes, as well.

In addition to discussing what women would do with a higher income, I think it’s important to recognize what we can all accomplish when women earn more. Like so many other things, pay equity is an issue that primarily touches the lives of women – but it’s not simply a “women’s issue.” It affects every one of us and as long as it exists, it means that we’re not doing as well as we could be economically or morally. Equal pay for equal work is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and the only thing to do if we truly want to make this a country where everyone can thrive.

*See page 32 of 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area.