Will The Coronavirus Stall Progress Toward Equal Pay?
Equal Pay Day is back, the bitter annual reminder of gender paycheck inequity. Each year, the calendar day represents how much longer the average white woman has to work to match the amount made by the average white man the year before. In 2020, the 24th year of the holiday, that day is March 31. (Black women's Equal Pay Day is Aug. 13, 2020.)
A new “Women in the Workplace” survey conducted by Bustle Digital Group and Luminary interviewed 2,000 women and men ages 22-54. It found that women still don’t feel supported in the workplace, which could be affecting their pay. Nearly 70% of respondents hadn’t asked for a raise in the last year, and only 26% checked their salaries against their colleagues’.
For 2021, it’s unclear how the coronavirus outbreak will affect the gap. "The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed how we work," says Cate Luzio, Luminary's founder and CEO. "Businesses are struggling financially, which will only make it more difficult for pay equity progress." Bustle’s recent Pollfish survey of 2,000 Americans revealed that 73% of women ages 24-44 are very or somewhat concerned about pay progress stalling.
Their fears aren't unfounded. In Minnesota, for example, female applicants typically make up around 33% of those applying for unemployment, the Pioneer Press reported. Since mid-March, that number has jumped to 66%.
Women are more likely to be hit harder by the economic impacts of the virus for a variety of reasons. For example, they more often hold hourly, low-wage jobs, which are more likely to be cut during the crisis and also rarely have benefits like paid leave or sick days. Historically, women have also been hit harder by economic recessions. Black women were among those hit the hardest by the 2008 Great Recession. The employment gap between black and white women increased almost sixfold during the years after the recession, according to a 2015 study by University of Washington sociologist Jennifer Laird.
“Our nation’s lack of policies that would support and help equalize caregiving work — like paid leave and paid sick days — was already a major driver of the gender wage gap,” says Erika L. Moritsugu, vice president for economic justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families. Women of color are likely to take the biggest hit during the pandemic, she says, because they're more likely to work in “professions that are on the front lines of this crisis,” like grocery store cashiers, domestic workers, nurses, and food service workers.
“These professions are underpaid already, tend not to provide any leave benefits, and often prevent workers from forming unions to advocate for their own safety and economic security,” she says. “The economic impact of coronavirus will reverberate long after we’ve contained the spread — and history shows that women of color will be disproportionately harmed.”
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