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Pay gap tied to minimum wage; Latinas hit hardest, study says

The fact that women’s wages lag behind men’s is nothing new, but a new report is showing that the minimum wage may have something to do with it.

According to a study by the National Women’s Law Center, the average gender wage gap in states with minimum wages above the federally mandated $7.25 per hour is smaller than the pay gap in states where the minimum wage meets the $7.25 criteria. Of the ten states with the widest wage gaps in 2011, only two had minimum wages above $7.25 per hour. All of the states with the narrowest wage gaps had minimum wages above the federally mandated level.

“The gap in wages has moved at a snail’s pace—shrinking only 18 cents in five decades and remaining stagnant for the last decade,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger.  “And for women of color, the wage gap is even worse.  Equal pay is not an abstract principle for women and their families.”

RELATED: Opinion: Raising the minimum wage is the smart and moral thing to do  

While women of all races suffer from unequal pay, the study shows that Hispanic women tend to have it the hardest. While the average white woman makes 77 cents to every dollar made by a man, the average Latina makes 55 cents.

Pat Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Labor Department and a member of the White House Equal Pay Task Force, says that Latinas have just barely caught up to where their white counterparts were when President Kennedy first signed the Equal Pay Act into law 50 years ago today.

“As we are embarking on the 50th anniversary of equal pay, women are making 77 cents to the dollar. When it comes to the pay gap for Latinas, it’s 55 cents and that means it’s taken this long to get where other women were 50 years ago,” she says.

Latino legislators like New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham and California Congressman Xavier Becerra have come out  in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have closed loopholes in the Equal Pay Act. A vote was blocked in Congress on the act in April.

RELATED: Latina gender wage gap is even harsher for immigrant women 

Over the course of the year, the average woman working full time, year-round will lose $17,249 due to the pay gap, says Shiu. For Latinas that total lost wages is even higher, with the average full time Hispanic woman losing an estimated $23,298. According to Shiu, over a lifetime Hispanic women will likely lose out on a whopping $854,000. At a time when moms are the top breadwinners in 4 out of 10 households,  the loss of thousands of dollars each year for Hispanic women impacts more than just the women, but Latino families, argues Shiu.

“When you consider that cost to her family and her community — it’s astounding. When you start at a deficit, you are going to stay at a deficit,” Shiu says. “It is a family issue and a community issue.”

Still, she is hopeful that the pay gap for Latinas could be closed in part by raising the minimum wage.

“As a civil rights lawyer I had the privilege of representing people who didn’t even earn the minimum wage — who had no minimum wage,” she says. “The minimum wage is directly tied to discrimination.”

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