California Latinas saw their pay gap widen for a decade. Then came coronavirus.


Coronavirus is compounding historic inequities that made the wage gap for Latinas the highest in the country, and it's particularly evident in California, according to a new report.

In California, nearly 30 percent of Latinas lost their jobs in the first months of the pandemic compared to 9 percent of white women. The numbers are even higher for Latinas without legal status (over 36 percent), according to a new report published Thursday by Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, (HOPE) a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization.

Even before the pandemic, California Latinas in 2019 were paid on average 42 cents for every dollar a white man earned, a wider pay gap than in 2011—when Latinas earned 45 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. It shows "the most significant wage gap in the nation," according to the report.

Research consultant Dr. Elsa Macías, who authored the report, found that the trend has persisted for well over a decade.

"Latinas have made absolutely no progress, 42 cents on the dollar in 2007 and 42 cents on the dollar in 2019," she said during a media briefing Wednesday. "Over the same time period, white women have improved from 76 cents to 79 cents; not great, but certainly better than how Latinas are doing." Latinas nationwide made 51.4 cents for every dollar a white man earned in 2018, according to the report.

Nationwide, Hispanic women saw a steep rise in their unemployment rate due to the pandemic; it jumped from 5.5 percent to 20.5 percent between February and April 2020, according to Pew Research Center.

The wage gap among California Latinas worsens in the Los Angeles area and Silicon Valley, where they make 38 and 33.5 cents on the dollar respectively, said Macías.

The high cost of living in those areas as well as the persistent exclusion of Latinas from the main industries in these regions, which are entertainment and tech, contribute to a wider Latina wage gap in those two parts of California, said HOPE executive director Helen Torres.

The report's authors say historic inequities in the state need to be addressed, such as under-resourced K-12 schools, less healthcare access, and limited economic options. Such barriers received renewed attention as the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately left many Latinas out of work, highlighting their vulnerability to recession-like conditions.

Hispanic women's economic status impacts the state's overall economic health, since one in every five California residents is a Latina, the report notes, and they make up a large proportion of the state’s school-aged children and the college-age population.

While 86 percent of California Latinas graduated from high school in the 2018-19 academic year, only 15 percent of Latinas in the state have a bachelor's degree compared to 43 percent of white women. Coronavirus threatens to worsen educational access and outcomes at all levels, the report states.

Latinos have seen gains in recent years. Nationally, Hispanic household income was 76 percent of white household income in 2018, up from 69 percent in 2010.

During the Great Recession, Latinas started their own micro-businesses when jobs were scarce. Macías said Latina-owned businesses grew by 136 percent between 2007 and 2012, and "there's early evidence now that they're going to be doing the same during this recession" triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Latinas have created 2.3 million new businesses nationwide, mostly micro-enterprises, representing 18 percent of all women-owned businesses between 2014 and 2019. But despite their strong growth, Latina-owned businesses earn less revenue than all women-owned businesses ($50,900 versus $142,900 in 2019), are less likely to scale, and tend to operate on razor-thin margins — which makes them more vulnerable to the consequences of a widespread shutdown as well as more flexible and resilient to crises.

Macías warns that Latinas stand to face a longer economic recovery from the coronavirus recession than other groups—a pattern she saw during the Great Recession.

Hispanas Organized for Political Equality issued a comprehensive list of policy recommendations. This includes prioritizing Latinas in the grant-giving process as well as loans to micro-businesses, passing legislation that helps decrease the number of uninsured Latinas, expanding educational opportunities by reforming standardized testing and increasing access to student financial resources, and investing state money to finance "a third-party public study of the Latina Pay Gap to present recommendations to the Legislature and relevant stakeholders."

"There's definitely work that needs to be done because, as we've seen, there are still some structural inequities," said Macías.

Antonia Hernández, president and CEO of the California Community Foundation, a nonprofit, said in a statement the report is a motivator for action.

"Every sector from government, corporate, and philanthropy need to make a large investment in the future of Latinas," said Hernández.

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