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By Diane Bernard, Public News Service – VA

March 24, 2021

Today is national Equal Pay Day.

new report shows women still earn significantly less than men in nearly all occupations, and more than 70 percent of women want lawmakers to do more to close that gender wage gap.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research survey finds women of color are hit hardest by the wage gap.

In Virginia, Latinas earn only 53 cents, and Black women earn 59 cents, for every dollar paid to a white man.

Ariane Hegewisch, senior research fellow at the Institute, said part of the reason is some women can only find work in low-wage professions like housekeeping.

“With Latinas and Black women having access to the worst jobs, and white men being more likely to have access to the better jobs,” Hegewisch asserted. “They get to work for the better companies; they may also get 40 hours most weeks.”

She noted the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the consequences of the pay gap, with a large segment of women in low-wage “essential” worker roles, like childcare or home-health aides.

Nationally, women earn 82 cents for every dollar paid to white men. The national average for Black women is 63 cents, and for Latinas, just 55 cents.

The report also found three of four women think the government should require all companies with 100 or more employees to report gender and pay information.

Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center, said her organization has been fighting for pay-equity laws in the state, including paid sick-leave and boosting funding for childcare, to help women close the gap.

“We need to invest in childcare,” Bobo argued. “We need to invest in making sure that there’s transparency in wages. We need to have better access to credit and to schooling. And we’ve got to find ways that we allow people to have children and care for children, and still able to have careers.”

She thinks Virginia is slowly making progress with laws to help women earn more. The state Legislature just passed a bill giving 30,000 home health-care workers paid sick leave for the first time.

Almost 18 percent of women working full-time have jobs in service-related occupations, like housekeeping, where wages are often poverty-level.