More Latinas have college degrees, but they're still making less than white males

Latinas have made historic workforce, educational and political gains, but they're still playing catch-up on wages.

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By Gwen Aviles

Education has been touted as the great equalizer, but Latinas are still playing catch-up when it comes to wages — even as they've made tremendous strides on the educational front.

Latinas who have obtained an associate degree or higher on average earn a third of what non-Hispanic white males with similar educational profiles earn, according to a report on U.S. Latinas by NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises and Comcast NBCUniversal published Tuesday. (NBC News and Telemundo are part of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast).

Latinas are in fact making major academic breakthroughs. Millennial Latinas with an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree grew 70 percent over the past two decades — from 17 percent of Latinas in 2000 to 30 percent in 2017. This growth rate outpaced both Latino males (56 percent) and non-Latina females (35 percent.)

Wednesday marks Latina Equal Pay Day, the day Latina pay equals the same amount made by white, non-Latino men the previous year. It is the last equal pay of the year, meaning that Latinas on average make less than every other demographic. For reference, Asian American women observed an equal pay day in March, white women observed an equal pay day in April and African American women observed an equal pay day in August, according to the Equal Pay Today! campaign.

Regardless of occupation, Latinas generally make less money than their peers, earning 54 cents for every dollar earned by non-Hispanic men.

Higher education alone cannot address the gender wage gap, says Monica Gil, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, speaking about the report, which is named “Latinas Powering Forward: Defining the Cultural Narrative and Reaching New Horizons.”

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“Latinas are often grateful for their jobs, but we need to move from a grateful to getable mindset by negotiating for better salaries and better equipping ourselves to take on positions of leadership,” Gil said. “Companies also need to invest in training programs that put Latinas at the forefront, whether that be in boardroom or in other positions of leadership. They need to give Latinas opportunities to show their value.”

“Latinas are still certain areas of the workforce, so they don’t have those strong networks non-Hispanic white males do,” Gil added. The issue is also compounded by the fact that many women — not just Latinas — don't feel comfortable stepping up to positions they haven't done before, said Gil.

These wage and workforce issues ultimately impact the overall economy, since currently, almost 1 in 5, or 18 percent of American women, are Latina.

Historic workforce, political growth

For the first time in history, the growth of Latinas in the workforce outpaced non-Latinas and Latino males. From 2000 to 2017, the Latina workforce grew more than 90 percent compared to 71 percent for Latino males and 13 percent for non-Latinas.

In the political arena, there have been notable — and recent — strides. Of the 20 Latinas who have ever served in Congress, 14 are serving today. Latina civic engagement is also slated to increase rapidly, with projections indicating that the 2020 election will mark the first time that Hispanics will be the largest ethnic majority eligible to vote at more than 13 percent.

“Latinas are at the heart of American politics,” Gil said. “They are breaking traditional norms, are proud of their roots and are independent in their thinking.”

Gil adds that Latinas’ political influence may become more substantial as more Hispanic women come of voting age. The population of Latinas under the age of 40 grew 55 percent in the last 20 years and key issues like health care, immigration and the “growing negative rhetoric against Hispanics” are driving civic engagement among Latinas, according to the report.

Challenges — and consumer clout

The report highlighted other challenges Latinas face, especially less access to health care. Among non-elderly adults in 2017, 25 percent of Hispanics had no health insurance over the past year, compared to 8 percent of non-Hispanic whites. At the same time, Latinas face higher mortality rates for breast cancer compared to non-Latinas and have the highest rate of cervical cancer in the U.S.

Latinas also don't see themselves represented in media — only 4 percent of the top-grossing films in 2018 had major Latina characters.

Yet, Latinas have a big influence when it comes to the economy — Latinas are the main drivers of Hispanic household consumption, which reached $1.5 trillion in 2018. From buying beauty products to automobiles to making investments, the study found Latinas are making much of the financial decisions.

“For every company that wants to grow, Latinas are the most coveted demographic, but companies need to stop using outdated strategies to attract these women,” Gil said. “They need to understand that there is no one more powerful than the Latina consumer, Latina voter or Latina businesswoman and support Latinas’ causes both internally and externally.”

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