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Women’s wage gap is big economic roadblock for Latinas, says new report

Latina women make 62 cents for every dollar made by an average white male, according to the Department of Labor.  This is one of the biggest factors limiting women from obtaining economic security for themselves and their families, according to a new Center for American Progress report. Adriana Kugler, chief economist to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solís, says this is a loss not just for women, but for their families.

“Due to the wage gap, the average lifetime loss in salary for an American woman is $400,000, but for a Latina, the number goes up to $800,000,” says Dr. Kugler, a Colombian-American who is the first Latina Chief Economist at the Department of Labor. “Imagine what a Latina can do with that amount – buy a home, pay for children’s colleges – it’ s an impressive number.”

Four in ten working Latinas are now breadwinners in their families, double the rate since 1975. Economists such as Kugler worry that lower salaries due to the wage gap are a contributing factor in the high rates of poverty among Latino families. One quarter of Hispanic households are poor, and 33 percent of Latino children live in poverty.

The wage gap is present in both lower-paying or higher-paying occupations, according to a recent report by the Women’s Policy Research Institute. For example, women accountants make $956 a week, whereas men make $1250.  Women secretaries make $651 a week while male secretaries earn $757. Waitresses make on average $389/week, but waiters will make $466. Women housekeepers and maids will take home about $392 a week but male housekeepers will earn a weekly average of $473.

“In fact, if you take into account educational attainment, the wage gap is even larger among Latinas, since Latinas women are more educated than Latino men,” adds Kugler.

Tackling the wage gap requires information so women can compare salaries, but a large percentage of employees are prohibited by their employers from discussing their salary. “When employees fear retaliation, there is a serious “chilling effect” on any conversations about wages,” says a National Women’s Law Center report.

Six states — California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Vermont — have banned this prohibition. Recently, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have allowed for more salary transparency and put the onus on companies to prove they did not engage in gender discrimination, failed to pass the Senate. Legislators who were opposed said it would result in excessive lawsuits.

The Department of Labor supports the legislation, and Kugler says a Harvard Business Review study found companies with pay transparency show higher returns for investors and promotes labor efficiency.

Another issue is whether to raise the minimum wage; 7.2 percent of Latinas make minimum wage (currently $7.25/hour) or less, compared to 5.1 percent of the population at large. Attempts to raise the minimum wage have failed in Congress. Legislators who are opposed say this is a burden on companies which can result in less job growth. Two thirds of Americans, including a majority of Republican voters polled, supported raising the minimum wage in a poll.

In the meantime, the Department of Labor has an enforcement division to ensure companies abide by minimum wage requirements, as well as to keep tabs on federal contractors, which employ one out of every four workers.

The Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor has resources which provide access to pay data, as well as strategies to educate women on information regarding pay.

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