As we join the call for Paycheck Fairness, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) recognizes that in the fight to achieve economic justice for all women, we must recognize, elevate, and address the unique challenges faced by Latinas and immigrant women.
According to the White House Council on Women and Girls, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns through employment. Yet, for Latinas, this rate is 56 cents on the dollar, which represents the largest wage gap of any other group of working women. What accounts for this widened disparity between men and Latinas, and between white women and Latinas? We know that although Latinas comprise the fastest growing community of color, more than a third do not graduate high school. Latinas experience the highest level of poverty among women in the labor force at 12.1% and have the lowest employment-to-population ratio of women of all racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore, the recession hit Latinas particularly hard as unemployment rates more than doubled for Latinas in the years between 2007 and 2010. Immigrant women and Latinas with limited English proficiency not only face systematic bars on their participation in the labor force, but also discrimination, prejudice, and bias from employers. Latina farmworkers face horrific levels of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and retaliation for reporting abuses from their employers. These factors account for the fact that Latinas are overly represented in low-wage sectors, working at jobs that provide few-to-no benefits like health insurance, paid vacation, and maternity or family leave.
We know that these pay inequities impact Latinas’ access to reproductive health care. Latinas compose the ethnic/racial group with the highest level of health care un-insurance, as they are less likely to have employer-sponsored coverage or to afford costly individual plans. And despite the enormous gains under the Affordable Care Act, or health reform law, undocumented individuals will be barred from purchasing health plans on the state health insurance exchanges and remain ineligible for Medicaid. The federally-imposed 5-year bar on legal permanent residents from accessing benefits under Medicaid blocks Latinas’ access to reproductive and sexual health care, including contraception and important preventive care such as Pap tests – and did we mention that Latinas have the highest incidence of cervical cancer of women of all racial/ethnic groups? On top of this, federal funding bans on abortion care make abortion just as inaccessible as if it were illegal for far too many Latinas.
And while NLIRH celebrates and supports the advances called for in the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced to the House of Representatives by Representative Rosa DeLauro (CO-3) and in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD), we view this legislation as part of a comprehensive solution to economic justice for all women, including Latinas. Utilizing a comprehensive approach means addressing injustice in immigration, health care, education, and employment to reverse the culture of devaluing Latina labor. In recent years, a wave of political and policy developments in states are, instead of seeking to address the wage gap between Latinas and other groups, actively limiting Latinas’ opportunities for a quality education, optimum participation in the workforce, and the comprehensive, quality, and affordable reproductive health care needed to plan their families and their participation in the workforce.
Let’s briefly look at two states- Arizona and Alabama – where the wage rate for Latinas is 53 cents and 41 cents, respectively, for every dollar a white man earns working full-time year-round. Instead of working to elevate the economic status of Latino families, the political classes in Arizona and Alabama have embarked on a radical anti-immigrant agenda aimed directly at limiting the employment and educational opportunities of immigrant and Latino families. HB56, enacted in Alabama in 2011, requires public school boards to attain the immigration status of newly enrolling children and their parents. Section 8 of this law forbids undocumented students from attending public universities and colleges and from receiving financial assistance. And despite the recent special legislative session called by Governor Robert Bentley to address concerns in HB 56, the changes actually tack on more dangerous provisions. Both HB56 and Arizona’s SB1070 forbid employers from hiring undocumented workers, and both work to create a culture of fear and discrimination against those without papers.
At the same time, the two states in our case study here, Arizona and Alabama, have embarked on a dangerous anti-abortion and anti-family planning agenda. In both Arizona and Alabama, 20-week abortion bans disproportionately impact low-income women, including Latinas, who face numerous barriers to full information about their pregnancies, and for whom financial, geographic, and other challenges delay the process of attaining abortion care. Arizona has also put in place a race- and sex-selective abortion ban which appropriates the language of civil rights and gender equity to target the reproductive freedom of women of color. Oh yeah, and in Arizona, you are apparently pregnant two weeks before conception, so this combined with the 20-week abortion ban puts abortion care out of reach for even more Latinas.
Beyond abortion, we are seeing attacks on access to contraception and family planning programs. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that permits “religiously-affiliated” employers to refuse to include contraception in employee health plans, a form of discrimination that intersects directly with reproductive and economic justice. And this only scratches the surface in terms of the amount roll-backs to reproductive health care access we are seeing in these and other states.
Here at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, we view the attacks on immigrant families and reproductive health as working hand-in-hand to diminish Latina opportunity. Because the question begs being asked, how can Latinas achieve their economic potential when they cannot attend university or work legally? How can Latinas fully participate in the labor force and provide for their families without the ability to space and plan their pregnancies? How can Latinas acheive equality of opportunity in the United States without equal access to health care?
Despite the enormous challenges, Latinas across the country are mobilizing for reproductive justice. Our Latina Advocacy Network in Texas is fighting against dramatic cuts to the Texas Women’s Health Program, a program which has been central to their ability access needed breast and cervical cancer screenings. Our Latina Advocacy Network in Miami is mobilizing to build broad coalitions bridging reproductive justice to other social justice work. Our Latina Advocacy Network in New York recognizes that passage of the DREAM Act, and the ability for undocumented immigrants to attain higher education, is central to the fight for reproductive justice. NLIRH is also an advisory board member of We Belong Together, a coalition united for children and families, which participated in a delegation to Alabama to bear witness to the impact of HB 56 on the lives of Alabama’s families. And through ¡Soy Poderosa!/ I am Powerful!, NLIRH’s civic engagement campaign, we will ignite the political power of all Latinas to advance health, dignity, and reproductive justice.
Together, we can make inroads in the fight for economic and paycheck fairness. However, this work must be intersectional, comprehensive, and take into account the lived experiences of all women, including Latinas. As we work to pass the important Paycheck Fairness Act, let’s also mobilize communities for immigrant rights, reduce barriers to quality and affordable health care, expand opportunities for education and job training, and last, but certainly not least, ensure that all women, including Latinas, have access to quality and affordable reproductive health care.