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Everything feels different this Equal Pay Day

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More than 50 years after the passage of the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1963, women still lag behind their male counterparts in every profession in the US.

Posted: Mar 31, 2020 4:11 PM
Updated: Mar 31, 2020 4:11 PM

Everything feels different this Equal Pay Day.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday, March 31, the day that marks how much more women have to work this year to catch up to what men made last year, I was preparing to hop from state to state to share my equal pay story with crowds of students and rallies of advocates. Just as sure as the forsythia shrubs and redbud trees bloom in Alabama every spring, I've made my annual journey across the country this time of year ever since the Supreme Court denied me justice in my pay discrimination case 13 years ago.

But as the coronavirus spread this year, event after event was canceled. It was too much of a health risk for folks to gather. And too much of a risk for me to travel; I am 81, after all.

So here I sit in my house in Alabama on Equal Pay Day, alone with my cat, Bushy. The streets and neighborhoods are empty. And like so many others, I'm feeling anxious.

The Covid-19 pandemic has suddenly exposed the brutal economic reality of low-paid women workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis -- and I feel an increased sense of urgency to close the wage gap that continues to shortchange them when they can least afford it.

As millions of us shelter in place and telework, home health aides are out caring for our sick family members, grocery store cashiers and clerks are giving us access to the food and supplies we need to stay healthy, and childcare workers are keeping our children safe. These workers are predominately women. And they are at high risk of viral exposure in each of these essential jobs. But so many lack the basic protections of a decent wage, paid sick and family leave, and employer-sponsored health care.

Every day, thousands are losing their jobs without severance and with no financial cushion as businesses across all sectors abruptly shut down.

These women face a cruel double-whammy: they're getting hit by the economic tsunami of the pandemic along with the lost earnings of the gender wage gap that pays them less than men doing the same job. New analysis by the National Women's Law Center shows that 85% of home health and personal care aides are women, and they are losing $5,000 each year to the wage gap, based on the difference between men and women's median annual earnings.

Some 93% of child care workers are women, and, according to the NWLC's analysis, they are paid a median of just $22,000 per year, while men in those same positions are paid a median of $27,000 per year.

This means women childcare workers are losing $5,000 each year to the gender wage gap.

Similarly, 70% of restaurant waitstaff are women: the wage gap deprives them of $6,000, according to calculations of men and women's median annual earnings. Women of color are a large percentage of the workers filling these jobs and face the largest wage gap losses of all because they experience both a gender and racial wage gap.

Imagine if the balance of those lost wages -- money they deserve in a just society -- were available to them now. It could help a childcare worker, waitress, health care aide -- and so many other low-paid workers -- put food on the table, pay for medication and other health care expenses, or cover rent and avoid eviction.

Even in the best of times, most women in the low-paid workforce have always lived on a razor's edge. A child gets sick. A car breaks down. Childcare falls through. Hours are cut. It doesn't take a pandemic to kick so many women and families into economic ruin. But maybe it takes a pandemic for the rest of the country to take notice.

I keep thinking of the 4th grade boy in a school in Alabama many years ago who, after I finished my presentation, quietly raised his hand and said that if his mother couldn't work, they would not have enough to eat at home.

I think of the waitresses working the early morning shift in hotels and the women passing by me in airports who stopped to share their own equal-pay struggles. Their stories are similar. They work hard to support their kids, but they can never really make ends meet. They rely on neighbors to take care of their children when their schedules change at the last minute. They can't afford to miss a day of work. What will happen if they or their kids get sick with the coronavirus?

If there will be a silver lining to this pandemic, when it ends, we will hopefully remember what we saw and who got hurt. Let's never forget the workers who demonstrated grit and commitment during the crisis --as they've always done.

Let this public health crisis be a catalyst for supporting economic protections, like raising the minimum wage, offering paid sick days, and expanding health insurance.

And let it be a catalyst for finally closing the wage gap.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 86722

Reported Deaths: 1994
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin25264915
Ramsey10267314
Dakota6942124
Anoka5531131
Stearns362923
Washington345955
Scott232532
Olmsted223726
Nobles191416
Blue Earth15406
Wright14777
Carver13037
Rice12798
Mower12534
St. Louis123329
Clay119940
Sherburne105013
Kandiyohi9082
Winona72718
Lyon6244
Steele5062
Freeborn4903
Nicollet48716
Watonwan4844
Benton4793
Todd4722
Le Sueur4403
McLeod4332
Chisago4151
Waseca4118
Crow Wing40218
Otter Tail3674
Beltrami3624
Goodhue3179
Martin2809
Polk2574
Itasca25513
Becker2352
Carlton2261
Isanti2210
Douglas2191
Cottonwood2130
Pipestone2059
Pine1980
Morrison1841
Chippewa1821
Dodge1820
Sibley1663
Wabasha1640
Brown1582
Unassigned15752
Meeker1552
Murray1492
Yellow Medicine1421
Rock1390
Mille Lacs1333
Faribault1290
Cass1203
Jackson1201
Renville1176
Pennington1071
Houston1050
Roseau1050
Swift991
Fillmore980
Koochiching983
Kanabec958
Lincoln930
Redwood910
Stevens911
Pope810
Aitkin691
Hubbard650
Big Stone640
Wadena610
Grant574
Wilkin553
Norman510
Lake480
Marshall481
Mahnomen441
Red Lake370
Lac qui Parle360
Traverse290
Clearwater240
Lake of the Woods201
Kittson130
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 76924

Reported Deaths: 1241
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk14988255
Johnson490727
Woodbury475459
Black Hawk425184
Linn3640102
Story321417
Dallas263238
Scott261427
Dubuque251840
Buena Vista191812
Pottawattamie189437
Marshall175234
Sioux12243
Wapello122057
Webster117914
Muscatine105152
Clinton102418
Cerro Gordo97721
Plymouth97520
Crawford9444
Warren9186
Jasper72032
Des Moines7137
Marion6874
Tama67830
Carroll6085
Lee5727
Wright5491
Henry5104
Dickinson4666
Bremer4497
Boone4346
Washington41411
Louisa41314
Franklin33017
Hamilton3123
Mahaska30919
Delaware3053
Jackson2803
Floyd2793
Winneshiek2745
Clay2663
Hardin2661
Benton2611
Clarke2533
Butler2512
Winnebago24711
Emmet24210
Shelby2381
Allamakee2355
Jones2313
Poweshiek2308
Clayton2243
Lyon2233
Buchanan2181
Cedar2101
Guthrie2095
Chickasaw1970
Kossuth1950
Grundy1932
Madison1922
Howard1764
Sac1760
Fayette1751
Iowa1741
Cherokee1732
Mitchell1720
Hancock1702
Humboldt1682
Harrison1642
Calhoun1612
Mills1541
Pocahontas1492
Palo Alto1480
Monroe1409
Page1400
Jefferson1291
Lucas1296
Cass1262
Monona1251
Taylor1171
Appanoose1163
Osceola1130
Union1123
Davis1104
Van Buren1081
Worth990
Keokuk841
Montgomery845
Greene790
Ida770
Wayne762
Fremont730
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