Hispanic women struggle with just over half the pay of men

Liliana Rodriguez is not by nature a complainer. A single mother of four, the 36-year-old Grand Rapids resident tries to appreciate what she has.

“I am content with what God gives me,” she said.

And for now, that's work in a local cereal factory that pays $10 an hour. It's more than she made in a series of previous jobs. She'd work longer hours if she could, but the hours can be irregular – 40 hours one week, 30 hours the next. That's because she is employed through a temporary work agency and not the factory itself.

Each week when she cashes her check, Rodriguez calculates in minute detail just far it will go toward meeting household expenses. If one of her children needs new shoes, she must budget for that. Food stamps help, but money is always tight.

“I need to plan for every single thing,” she said through a Spanish interpreter with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, a nonprofit social service and translation agency in Grand Rapids.

Rodriguez appears to have plenty of company in Michigan, given that Hispanic women working full time earn about 57 cents on the dollar compared to all working males in Michigan, according to a report on wages in 2013 released earlier this year by the Washington D.C.-based National Women's Law Center. The wage gap large is larger than that for African American women in Michigan, who earn 69 cents on the dollar compared to males.

Overall, women in Michigan earn 75 cents on the dollar compared to a man.

MORE COVERAGE: In paychecks, Michigan women have a long way to go, baby

Sara Proano, language services manager for the Hispanic Center, attributes the wage gap for Hispanic women to several factors, including lack of education, language and cultural barriers and the disproportionate share of Hispanic women in low-paying service sector or factory work and low-paying agricultural jobs.

“They are low-paying jobs but they can very, very hard,” Proano said. “It can be very difficult for a (Hispanic) woman to be the sole provider of a family. You have to be very creative to make it work.”

According to Kate Gallagher Robbins, a researcher for the National Women’s Law Center, Hispanic women working full time in Michigan in 2011-2013 had median earnings of $27,999, in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars, compared with $33,531 for Hispanic men and $51,397 for white men. African-American women working full time in Michigan earned $34,027, compared with $36,870 for African American men.

There is a corresponding gap in high school dropout rates that would seem to explain part of the income gap for minority women. According to the Michigan Department of Education, Hispanic women in Michigan had a high school dropout rate of 15.3 percent in 2011, compared with 9 percent for all female students and 6.7 percent for white female students. African American women had a dropout rate of 15.1 percent. Hispanic men had an even higher dropout rate of 21.6 percent, as did African American men, at 24 percent.

Rodriguez has no high school degree. Her inability to speak English further inhibits her range of options for work.

In the past few years, she has worked as an agricultural laborer, in a landscape nursery, at a commercial laundry and at a West Michigan mink farm. She never made as much as $10 an hour in any of those jobs.

At the laundry job, which involved repetitive, arduous folding and lifting of clothes, she learned from other workers what the words “tendon” and “carpel tunnel” mean.

“I would lie in bed at night and my shoulders were numb,” she recalled.

Her work at the mink farm – where the animals were kept in cages and killed to make fur coats – brings back memories she would prefer to forget. She said she was bitten in the hands and wrists on numerous occasions as she transferred mink from one cage to another.

“It was horrible,” she said.

She said she is grateful to have left that job behind.

“I am not complaining,” she said. “I know there are people suffering more than I do.”

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Tue, 06/09/2015 - 11:28am
Her attitude is honorable and admirable. Her skills, education, language barrier and situation are self-imposed hardships. It all accumulated and made life hard. The statistics quoted are proof of what happens. Hispanics are not getting it and pay for that. Then there are the Asians and others who assimilate and strive. Perhaps there is half the pay as one brings half of expectations to the table.
Tue, 06/09/2015 - 11:41am
So you are saying she came here and found out that the working conditions in general and men verses women in her native country were better than they are here? Seems to me immigrants come here to fill jobs not being filled by native born residents, and not necessarily the most pleasant by definition. Not that we shouldn't be grateful that someone is here doing them!
Tue, 06/09/2015 - 11:40pm
I'm confused. A 36 year-old single mother of 4, high school dropout that can't speak English is barely able to hold a job that pays a living wage? How is this possible in today's America?
Wed, 06/10/2015 - 5:14am
Could it be the jobs they are at? Or are all these groups receiving different wages for the same job, at the same years of seniority in their job? If they aren't working the same job, for the same number of years, the study is meaningless to show that gender or race has anything to do with overall lower wages. Skill, education, job title and years on the job are probably what cause the wage difference.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Fri, 06/12/2015 - 4:05pm
Ted, I think you have purposefully misrepresented this young ladies income and benefits! I think you have not identified solutions to this young ladies plight, or anyone's for that matter. If you agree my assumptions are factual and apparent to all, possibly someone could clarify what your purpose actually was? I think this discussion will show that the income tables (statistics) you reference may also be misrepresented in these same ways. If you please, let's go down through some of the details from your article that are apparent: A 36 year-old single Hispanic woman, mother of 4, resident of Grand Rapids, does not speak English, is not a high-school graduate. (Is she legally qualified to work here and be represented by your data?) She makes $10 per hour with a work week of 40 hours or less. This is true of nearly everyone working in Retail Stores in Michigan at lower levels, non-management positions male or female. The average work-week in America, according the monthly reports from the BLS, is now about 34.5 hours per week. So I'm guessing your young lady makes $345 per week on the average from that company that contracts with the cereal company. When I worked for such companies they do not provide benefits. My wife gives the example of a young lady she knows, a non-Hispanic, high-school graduate, working at a local Retail Store in Michigan, our area. (One time that she checked, there were 9 college graduates working Retail too.) Her young lady makes under $10 per hour, works under 30 hours per week, has 2 children, gets child support for 1 ($400/m), but courtesy of the state and community systems she also gets a free cell phone (estimated $45/m), housing allowance, food stamps, medical, dental, earned income tax credit, and WIC. She arranges her schedule to work while her kids are in school so they are her baby-sitting service too. They receive Free-Lunches at school. She gets paid vacation days and paid holidays, in addition to her "less than $10/hr." She owns her own car. She has educational assistance available that also may include child care. Where are the fathers of the 4 children in your picture? Don't they have more responsibilities in this than us readers? My wife and I home-schooled our children, so there was no cost to our social system, our economy, for that. But in your example you have 4 children apparently receiving public education. So that is $10,000 to $15,000 each or possibly a $60,000 per year cost from our economy to her for that to the benefit to your young lady. There is the cost for those Free-Lunches too. I suggest we have Bridge's "Truth Squad" add up the costs to society, our economy, for the benefits our economy provides to your young lady right now, compared to what you represent. Then compare the numbers for generic, Hispanic women and men to see if your statistics hold up there when all benefits are considered. You said, "According to Kate Gallagher Robbins, a researcher for the National Women’s Law Center, Hispanic women working full time in Michigan in 2011-2013 had median earnings of $27,999, in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars, compared with $33,531 for Hispanic men...." I take that as 83.5% when comparing Hispanic Women to Hispanic Men. If you please, I propose this Program for your young lady: 1) Tutoring in her native language to clear up any concepts in her native language that might impede her learning English easily. 2) Tutoring in her native language up to 12th grade Reading level. 3) Tutoring in Reading and Writing in English up to 12th grade Reading and Writing Levels. 4) Completion of her GED. 5) Help finding her work she can do at $25/hr. If you like, I can do this tutoring and complete this Program. You make her sound like she is a nice a person. That wants to succeed, if she has the chance. You can give her this chance. If I fail at this Program it will be at my expense and I will send you an Invoice that says, "No Charge." If I succeed at this Program I will send you an Invoice at my Professional Engineering Rate. Do you and Bridge believe in what you are saying, or are we, "just saying...".
Mon, 06/15/2015 - 5:17pm
What has any of the observations made in this article have to do with comparing the wages of Hispanic women to anything. This is such a unique case that it can hardly be used as an example of wage parity. So much was left out of the article. The very first thing that should have been stated was whether or not the person was legal or illegal. It is hard to assume legal if there is a critical language barrier. It sounds like the person has some years of work experience in the U.S.A. which should have contributed to learning the American language well enough to be able to hold a conversation in English. Having to use an interpreter shows the difficulty an employer might have with an employee who cannot speak the language. When you think about job training and job safety, how do you accomplish this with a person who not only can't speak your language, but is not educated enough to understand what you require even if it is translated to the person's native language. I would pick a better example for this article if I were you.