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: 20573

Reported Deaths: 878
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin6918534
Ramsey231697
Stearns192312
Nobles14572
Anoka116455
Dakota105935
Olmsted55110
Washington50626
Kandiyohi4541
Clay36623
Rice3652
Scott3462
Wright2401
Sherburne2081
Todd1970
Benton1662
Carver1612
Mower1501
Steele1400
Martin1245
Blue Earth1121
St. Louis11113
Pine850
Freeborn840
Winona7715
Carlton730
Nicollet683
Cottonwood620
Polk582
Otter Tail550
Itasca527
Goodhue522
Watonwan500
Chisago481
Dodge430
Meeker420
Crow Wing421
Le Sueur411
Chippewa400
Jackson390
Morrison380
Murray350
Becker320
Lyon310
Douglas290
McLeod260
Isanti250
Waseca240
Rock210
Unassigned199
Fillmore171
Mille Lacs161
Wabasha160
Swift150
Sibley120
Beltrami120
Wilkin113
Norman110
Kanabec111
Cass113
Faribault110
Brown112
Pipestone100
Marshall80
Pennington70
Pope70
Aitkin60
Wadena60
Yellow Medicine50
Koochiching50
Lincoln50
Mahnomen51
Renville50
Lac qui Parle30
Red Lake30
Big Stone30
Redwood30
Traverse30
Grant20
Houston20
Clearwater20
Hubbard10
Kittson10
Lake10
Roseau10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 17227

Reported Deaths: 456
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3714108
Woodbury255524
Black Hawk167639
Linn92775
Marshall86611
Dallas84914
Johnson5987
Muscatine54339
Wapello5004
Crawford4772
Tama39023
Louisa3347
Scott3319
Dubuque31916
Jasper25616
Buena Vista2310
Pottawattamie2106
Sioux1990
Washington1798
Allamakee1184
Wright1170
Plymouth1080
Warren1060
Story941
Poweshiek888
Bremer676
Henry611
Clinton601
Boone540
Des Moines531
Mahaska526
Cedar451
Guthrie433
Taylor370
Benton371
Jones360
Monroe334
Iowa320
Clarke320
Osceola320
Shelby310
Buchanan310
Clayton303
Marion290
Webster271
Fayette260
Hamilton260
Madison241
Monona230
Cerro Gordo221
Lee220
Winneshiek210
Davis200
Lyon190
Grundy190
Harrison190
Floyd181
Jefferson150
Cherokee150
Butler150
Mills140
Delaware140
Humboldt130
Sac130
Greene130
Keokuk130
Hardin130
Howard120
Hancock120
Appanoose123
Audubon111
Jackson110
Cass110
Ida100
Page100
Clay100
Winnebago100
Carroll90
Van Buren80
Franklin80
Dickinson80
Adair80
Chickasaw80
Kossuth70
Emmet70
Lucas60
Montgomery60
Union60
Adams50
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Pocahontas40
Mitchell40
Palo Alto30
Worth30
Unassigned30
Calhoun20
Wayne10
Decatur00
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