Closing The Gap

Rep. Deb Haaland: Native American women are paid far less than white men—here's a way to fix it

Photo: Congresswoman Deb Haaland

If I told you that Native women have to work 22 months to make what their white male counterparts make in 12 months, would you be surprised?

This year, Native American Equal Pay Day lands on Sept. 23, a day that shows how much longer Native women must work before they earn the same amount their white male counterparts did the previous year.

When we think about the gender pay gap, we know that women of color suffer from pay inequality at disproportionate rates. But when we break those into subgroups, it is evident that Native women are at the bottom of the list — followed only by our Latinx sisters, who won't see an Equal Pay Day until Nov. 20 of this year.

The disparity in Native women's pay wouldn't be surprising if the general public knew about the other disparities that exist in Indian Country. Native populations suffer from chronic disease, poverty and education gaps at disproportionate rates.

Native communities are often left out of the equation and off the radar of mainstream media. It is part of the reason why the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women has gone unaddressed for so long.

I ran for Congress, in part, because I want to shed light on the issues facing Native American communities that have been ignored for far too long.

The fact that Native women only make 58 cents on the dollar compared to white men in similar positions is absolutely unacceptable. It is a statistic that impacts so many other issues including access to health care, education, job training and child care.

When I was raising my daughter as a single mother, I experienced the struggles many women face as breadwinners for their families. There were times when I relied on food stamps to put food on the table for my daughter and me, and in leaner times, I couldn't always afford a place for us to live.

Women of all backgrounds face these challenges when they shouldn't have to; all workers should be paid fairly.

The fact that Native women only make 58 cents on the dollar compared to white men in similar positions is absolutely unacceptable.

The status quo in the U.S. does not hold employers responsible for ensuring equal pay for equal work. Instead, the burden is placed on women to "negotiate" for their wages, when we know men walk into the workplace with higher offers and advantages for no other reason than the fact that they were born men.

Like many women of color, when I entered the workforce, I had no idea that I was expected to negotiate for fair pay. In fact, I never did it. It is these disparities in information and mentorship that put Native women and other women of color at a disadvantage, resulting in a deficit in pay that compounds over their lifetimes.

If we are a country that believes in the notion that hard work and perseverance deliver the American dream, we should readily admit that the decks are stacked against women, and we should do something about it.

For Native women, who are murdered at rates 10 times the national average, inaction on pay equity could mean the difference between becoming a statistic and being able to end the cycle of violence. When women are financially secure and independent, they are more likely able to escape violence at home.

In addition to ensuring Indian Country has the resources to increase data collection, investigate domestic violence and other crimes and invest in law enforcement — which are addressed in the Honoring Promises to Native Nations proposal that Sen. Elizabeth Warren and I are working on — I know pay equity is a tool to fight the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis.

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would address loopholes in the law that allow employers to pay women less than men for the same job. It makes sure we're addressing the root causes of the gender pay gap, like using pay history to project job offer pay, instead of offering to pay equitably. It's common sense.

When women are financially secure and independent, they are more likely able to escape violence at home.

Why the Senate majority doesn't want to bring the Paycheck Fairness Act to a vote baffles me. This is about fairness. This is about doing something to prevent violence against Native women. This is about bringing solutions to the table to solve problems that impact our kids and families, and that would stimulate our economy.

To address the extensive disparities for Native women we have to make sure we are not invisible. It is why I am in Congress and it is why I work tirelessly to ensure Tribes have a seat at the table, no matter what issues come before Congress.

Could you imagine what would happen if this kind of representation existed in the business community and all areas of our economy?

Congresswoman Deb Haaland serves New Mexico's First Congressional District and is one of the first Native American women serving in Congress.

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