Report: Indigenous women in the U.S. earn 60 cents on the dollar

The pay disparity is even larger in New Mexico

By: - September 9, 2021 6:00 am

(Getty Images)

Historic inequality for Native American women is still present in economic earnings, according to a report released this week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research

Native American women are not receiving their worth from employers for their work.

It’s historically bad. “During the last decade, the gender earnings gap for Native women and white men has not improved,” researchers concluded.

Nationally, Native American women receive 60 cents for every dollar a white man makes. This was highlighted by a Tweet from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s re-election campaign. But the governor did not address questions about proposals for fixing the issue.

Her campaign spokesperson Kendall Witmer said, “As a member of Congress, (Lujan Grisham) led efforts to close the wage gap, expand paid leave and increase access to affordable child care. In New Mexico, Gov. Lujan Grisham implemented policies that have addressed the wage gap, helped women remain in the workforce, eliminated financial barriers to higher education, and supported the needs of New Mexico’s women and their families.”

Her office did not disclose what the governor would do to address these topics from the executive office. Although her campaign did say she would continue on the path to support all women in New Mexico. 

New Mexico was highlighted by the report for being the worst in the nation for income inequality for Native American women.

White men in the state make $58,153 on a median scale. By the same metric, Native American women make $30,000,

That’s a 51.6 percentage gap.

The report addressed issues such as a concentration of low-paying jobs, unemployment and lack of full time work, a gap in education, lack of worker’s union representation, lack of health care or safety services — and violence. Researchers cite this statistic: Four in five Native American women experience domestic partner violence. 

When Terrelene Massey (Diné) accepted her first job as a lawyer, she said took a pay cut, despite experience in policy work. 

“I guess that’s kind of expected, unfortunately, with lawyers, with first year lawyers,” she said.

She is now the executive director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center, advocating for greater equity in New Mexico.

The report was shocking, she said.

“Having lived in New Mexico for the past 17 years or so now, we always pride ourselves as being a good place for Native Americans to live because of our relationship with the tribes and pueblos,” she said. “Our policies are usually pretty progressive and on par.”

In Albuquerque, the city with the state’s largest Native American population, businesses working with city government are required to submit a report determining if there is a gap in pay based on gender. 

If businesses are paying men and women equitably, a 5% preference is given in competitive solicitations,” Dawn Begay said. She works with the city’s Office of Native American Affairs and boosts Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s efforts on this front. The city’s move prompted Bernalillo County and the Water Utility Authority to adopt the same goal. “Now all three governments will give preference to companies paying men and women equally,” she said.

Still, statewide, New Mexico needs to do more to support Native American women, Massey argued. This includes buy-in from tribes.

“There’s a need for jobs. People are always trying to find ways to make economic situations better. It’s just not the state,” she said. “I do think tribal governments also need to do the same. And I don’t I don’t think they do that very well.”

Massey’s organization is also lobbying for child care services that can support working mothers and trim their expenses. 

“This is an issue for all of New Mexico, in terms of having affordable and quality child care available to families,” she said. “You know what this report shows is that women who are single-parent families and who are working, one of the issues that they face is the lack of child care, and this is really apparent on tribal reservations as well.”

The next legislative session will likely see another bill to give statewide support for workers that need time off for child care, she said, “so families can have a safe location and safe place for their kids when they go to work.”

Rep. Christine Chandler, a Democrat from Los Alamos, sponsored this bill during the 2021 legislature but it died in committee.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.