Let’s Replace Lost Wages with Pay Equity for Native Women

Native Women Pay Gap & Equity

By Laura Schad | Publish date: March 22, 2022

For most of my career, I have worked in the nonprofit arena serving and supporting tribal communities. When I returned to South Dakota in the early 1990s, I was aware of the state’s high proportion of women working multiple jobs to support their families. But another factor that I and other Native women in the workforce face is the pay gap – more like a gorge – between our annual earnings and the earnings of white males in similar roles.

Laura Schad, PWNA

Here’s a 50-year perspective: “In 1973, full-time working women earned a median of 56.6 cents to every dollar men earned.” This overall gender pay gap has improved to 82 cents for most women, but for Indigenous women. the pay gap is still 60 cents on the dollar. This translates to less than a 5-cent increase over the past 50 years – or one (1) penny for each decade worked since the early seventies. In addition, according to the 2015-2019 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census, there are still some Native women in the U.S. who fall below the 1973 marker of 56.6 cents.

Even at pay gap of 60 cents on a dollar, lost wages for Native women adds up to $25,000 per year – every year. Over a career spanning 40 years (two generations), Native women suffer $1 million in lost wages. And, to earn what their male counterparts earn in 12 months, Indigenous women would have to work an extra 20 months. How is this racial and social equity?

An extra $25,000 a year from equal pay rates would mean significant life changes for Native women and their extended families. The impact of equal pay could be generational – just as the impact of poverty has been. The purchasing power of $25K could fuel quality child development services so children enter school with a level playing field. It could help pay rent and buy healthy groceries and quality health care. Dreaming bigger, an additional $2083 a month would allow Native women to work toward wealth generation …save money, build credit and buy their own home.

Native women in rural areas are already facing higher food costs, gas prices and longer drives to work, not to mention limited healthy food choices. If Native women were paid on the scale that white men are paid, there would be no need for predatory lenders or waiting for a tax refund to buy an overpriced vehicle that will need repairs soon after it is driven off the lot. $25,000 a year could also mean no need for a second job just to make ends meet, which takes Native women away from their families and communities.

Time will only tell how COVID may have impacted the earning potential of Native women, but it is safe to say that women of color helped keep this country running through childcare, healthcare, and other front-line positions – and faced the spike in burnout and unemployment rates.

Beth Redbird, an assistant professor of sociology shared her research on what drives Native American poverty. “One of the things that we also know about jobs is there’s been this declining relationship between working and a job’s ability to help you get out of poverty,” Redbird explained. In fact, her research indicates that employment is the main factor driving poverty.

Beginning in 2022, the Census Bureau has committed to reporting Native income and poverty data in its annual reports. These demographics will begin to fill the information gap that could better inform public policy and steer resources to combat pay inequities. It will take the collective work of supportive federal policies and tribes exerting their sovereignty to create sustaining, equitable resources that address the horrendous pay gap inflicted on Indigenous women.

1 Comment

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  1. hris

    thank you for nice detailed research, share for the people

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