Respect Equality

Equal Pay Day highlights the financial strain on women during coronavirus

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The return of springtime in the United States means a few things: taxes are due, flowers are springing, the observation of Easter approaches and Equal Pay Day is here. Only, with the threat of the coronavirus hanging heavy over the nation’s head, things look a little bit different this year.

Today’s annual observation of Equal Pay Day serves as a marker for the number of extra months into the new year that women must work in order to earn what men brought in the previous year, and considering the record-shattering 3.28 million Americans who applied for unemployment benefits just last week, it highlights worrying statistics that are more important now than ever to be tackled.

“The pay gap is less money women have in their pockets for basic necessities and less in savings to ride out a crisis like this,” Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, tells Fortune.

Women currently earn about 81.6 cents for each dollar earned by a man and thus need to work about 25 percent more time than men to make up the difference, according to census reports. This gender pay gap is calculated from the census reports of men’s and women’s median annual earnings. For women of color, the pay gap is even larger.

Some believe that these estimates are overblown, as the numbers don’t take into account the fact that men and women occupy different jobs and roles, as men are statistically more likely to occupy jobs in high-paying industries, and are more likely to hold senior roles. Despite this, women are still being underpaid compared to their male counterparts in industries that are less affected by traditional office hierarchies, such as the food service industry and in education.

Female workers are being significantly affected in hospitality, for which they hold 70 percent of restaurant server positions despite earning 79 percent of what men do, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Women also make up 77 percent of clothing retail workers and, before their stores closed, earned 89 percent of what men did. For women working on the front lines of the virus as nurses, where they represent 88 percent of the workforce, they earn 92 percent of what their male colleagues do. Female family doctors also make 94 cents for every $1 male family doctors earn.

Even in the business of early education where women dominate the workforce (97.3 percent of preschool and elementary teachers are women), female preschool and elementary teachers only earn 83.8 cents for every dollar earned by men.

As schools close and unprecedented numbers of students are assigned at-home work and begin taking virtual classes, women are also more likely to suffer financial hardship due to the need to take time off to care for children. Research shows women who return to the workforce after taking time off to care for a family member, such as having children or caring for a sick relative, receive compensation offers that are 7 percent less when compared to an employee who applied for the same job while still in the workforce, according to CNN Business.

According to the Gender Pay Scorecard released today by investment manager Arjuna Capital and Proxy Impact — of the 50 leading U.S. companies, half of them actually received the lowest mark possible of “F” such as Goldman Sachs, Oracle, McDonalds and Walmart. Meanwhile, Starbucks, Mastercard and Citigroup are the only three companies to have received an “A” grade.

While businesses continue to struggle to stay afloat during these uncertain times, one of the surest ways CEOs and business owners can take care of their employees is through ensuring pay equity. Most businesses are not actively choosing to pay their female employees less, but unconscious bias and a lower starting salary based off of previous jobs are preventing Americans from reaching the financial equality that should have already been achieved.