Equal Pay Day for American Indian women is September 23, 2019. It marks the amount of time an American Indian woman has to work into 2019 to make in wages what a white man made in 2018 for the same occupation—a full nine months later.
The gender wage gap affects all women, regardless of income, educational attainment, occupation, and job sector. This means that regardless of a woman’s credentials, she will likely be paid less than a man, whether she is a cashier or an executive. A lack of support from workplaces for family caregiving as well as discrimination based on gender and race all contribute to the wage gap. However, it disproportionately impacts women of color with low incomes.
For American Indian women, Equal Pay Day comes nearly six full months later than National Equal Pay Day (April 2) for women in general. Overall, women in the United States make 80 cents for every dollar men make, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,169. This gap totals to almost sixteen months’ supply of groceries or ten months’ worth of rent.
Women in Montana, on average, make just 78.8 cents for every dollar a man makes. This means for women in Montana the estimated lifetime loss in pay due to the gender wage gap amounts to $386,080. That discrepancy ranks Montana 32nd worst in the nation and isn’t projected to close until 2084, putting Montana in tenth to last place to reach equal pay. In Montana, American Indian women make even less at just 66.9 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Ultimately, this huge discrepancy in pay amounts to a lifetime loss of wages of over $600,000. This has direct consequences on American Indian women, families, and communities.
The wage gap is larger for mothers than for women overall. In Montana, nearly half of American Indian female-headed households experience poverty, more than double the rate among white female-headed households and more than seven times the rate for Montana families overall. For American Indian female-headed households with children under five years old, nearly 70 percent of those households experience poverty.
On average, American Indian women in Montana are paid $31,200 annually, assuming a 40-hour work week and a full-time occupation. The average annual loss in wages for American Indian women is $10,400, when compared to what white men make. In Yellowstone County, for example, the income a single adult needs to attain housing, food, healthcare, and other necessities is $34,966. With one child, these estimates increase to $57,958. This annual loss of $10,400 in wages for American Indian women could be used for more than a year of child care in Yellowstone County.
Nationally, the wage gap is experienced at every education level for American Indian women, and this gap actually widens as they pursue more education. White Montanans are paid more than American Indians at every education level, and this gap also widens as American Indians earn diplomas. American Indians would have to earn an associate degree to make as much as a white high school graduate in Montana. Once a bachelor’s degree or higher is earned, the wage gap is five times higher between American Indians and whites.
Women are less likely to hold high-level, high-paying jobs than men, and spend less time in the formal workforce due to cut part-time hours and a gendered division of labor in households. Women in general have less upward mobility than men, and women of color are less likely to move to higher positions in their careers than white women.
When American Indian women in Montana make 33.1% less than white men for the same work, they have less money to support themselves and their families, are less upwardly mobile in their career, are less able to save and invest for the future, are limited in their ability to participate in the economy, and have less money to spend on goods and services in their community. Increasing minimum wage, prohibiting retaliation from wage disclosure, passing paid family and medical leave, and ensuring all workers have access to paid sick leave are just some of many necessary steps towards addressing the gender wage gap. American Indian women, and women in general, in Montana deserve better.