Native American Women need Equal Pay

By De Ana Jimenez, 9to5 Colorado board member, pictured here (top row, middle) with her family

I didn’t have any knowledge of what equal pay was until I was 15 years old. I came home ecstatic, I had just landed my first job. My mom asked me, “So, what are you getting paid?,” and young minded I thought, “what!?” I was offered $100 a week to work 3 hours a day after school and then Saturday 4 hours. I didn’t know Minimum wage in Colorado at that time was $8.31 per hour. Quick math lesson — I was shorting myself $57.89 per week. My mom told me at that moment, “any job you take you must get equal pay for equal work. Whether you’re a man or a woman. You should get paid the same as anyone else doing that same job.”

Equal pay wasn’t a word that was used or even talked about in my home growing up. I’m Native American, Muscogee and Pawnee from Oklahoma. Native American families in Oklahoma just worked hard to have the basics (stable home, food, modern utilities & reliable transportation) and NOT have commodities (government aid for food). 

With my mom’s quick math lesson and equal pay for equal work in my head, I went back to the new employer and said, “I need to get paid what I’m worth. Minimum wage is $8.31 an hour, for what you want me to work I need to get paid $157.19 per week.” The guy at first wasn’t willing to pay me equally but in the end I got $157.00 a week. In my late 20s I was told “the key to success is an education”, and I thought that will help you get equal pay.  $15,000 in college debt later, with an education, I still struggle to provide the basic needs for my family. 

With these life lessons, I’ve learned wage practices aren’t always in my favor. If it had been I wouldn’t have to work one full time job and a part time job; sometimes two part time jobs (Certified Medical Assistant, Retail Sales associate & food delivery driver) as a single mother and survivor of domestic violence to provide the basic needs for my three children.

Equal pay for me means being able to provide basic needs for my family with just ONE job, to continue my education while working ONE job, to save money for my youngest daughter’s college education with ONE job, to own my own home with ONE job.

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