COMMENTARY: Wage gap for Native women is just plain ridiculous

by Sep 24, 2019OPINIONS





My daughter, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, would have to work all of 2019 and until Sept. 23, 2020 to earn what a white, non-Hispanic male would make in 2019 alone according to a new study.  A report by Jasmine Tucker entitled “Equal Pay for Native Women”, published by the National Women’s Law Center, outlines the disparities and states, “Native women are typically paid only 58 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.  This gap in pay, which typically amounts to a loss of $24,443 each year, means that Native women have to work more than 21 months – until the end of September – to make as much as white, non-Hispanic white men in the previous calendar year.”

This is just plain ridiculous and unacceptable.

These gaps have nothing in the world to do with educational level.  According to the study, “Native women with Bachelor’s degrees are typically paid about $44,000 – only about two thousand dollars a year more than what white, non-Hispanic men with only a high school diploma are typically paid ($42,088).”

It gets even crazier.  The study states, “Native women typically have to earn a Master’s degree before they are paid more than white, non-Hispanic men with just an Associate’s degree are paid ($56,000 and $53,842, respectively).”

These gaps seem to have nothing to do with the type of job either.  According to the study, Native women earn the following amounts for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes in the same field: secretaries and administrative assistants $0.81, cashiers and retail salespeople $0.63, nursing and home health $0.83, janitors and housekeepers $0.57, teachers (pre-K through 12th grade and special education) $0.76, and childcare workers $0.63.  Several professions were close but still not equal including: registered nurses $0.93, customer service representatives $0.90, and cooks $0.90.

Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), one of two of the first Native American women in Congress, was quoted by CNBC’s Make It on Monday, Sept. 23, “The Paycheck Fairness Act that the House passed is going to be a big step towards addressing the gender pay gap.  I think having a good policy in place with the intention towards making sure that it’s equal across the board regardless if you’re a white woman, a black woman, a Native American woman, or a Latina woman is important.  But, we can’t get there without everybody recognizing that it’s a problem.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), states, “Despite the enactment of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, many women continue to earn significantly lower pay than men for equal work.  These pay disparities exist in both the private and governmental sectors.  Pay disparities are especially severe for women and girls of color.”

After its passage in March, Rep. DeLauro stated, “Women and men in the same job deserve the same pay.  Yet, women continue to earn 20 percent less than men, on average.  That is wrong, and we need to fix it.”

The Act is currently awaiting passage by the Senate where it has failed several times before.

In an op-ed, published Sept. 23 on, Rep. Deb Haaland (R-N.M.), one of two of the first Native American women in Congress, wrote, “Like many women of color, when I entered the workforce, I had no idea that I was expected to negotiate for fair pay.  In fact, I never did it.  It is these disparities in information and mentorship that put Native women and other women of color at a disadvantage, resulting in a deficit in pay that compounds over a lifetime.”

I hope that the Paycheck Fairness Act will pass the Senate this time around.  It’s sorely needed, especially in Indian Country.  My daughter, and scores of other Native women, should not have to work 21 months to earn what a white, non-Hispanic man earns in 12.  Fix it, now.