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Labor’s Unsung Heroes


healthcare workers sign

(photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)


A tribute to America’s workers, Labor Day has evolved beyond a day of parades and festivals duly celebrating the achievements of workers to one emphasizing the economic realities and civic significance of the unsung heroes responsible for the prosperity of our country.

Of these everyday heroes, no one is more unsung than the women of color and immigrant women who, in the main, bear the responsibility for raising their families while at the same time working outside the home.

All groups of women earn less than white males across communities and job categories, but the discrepancies vary greatly by race and ethnicity. White women earn 84 cents for every dollar earned by white men, Asian women earn 63 cents, black women earn 55 cents, and Latina women earn 46 cents. To put it in perspective, given the current pay gap, black women must work about an additional 200 days to make what white men earn in a year.

Here in New York, women of color and immigrant women form the bedrock of the labor force. They are frequently both the main or sole caregivers and main or sole wage earners in their households. They supply the bulk of the paid caregiving services, on which so many other New York households depend and account for a major share of the retail and restaurant sector workforce that drives our economy.  

Yet the progress of women of color and immigrant women has not historically been a top priority for anyone, even philanthropies. Less than 7% of foundation funding goes directly to supporting programs for women and girls.

Today, there are determined, grassroots organizations forging strong approaches to expanding the economic security and well-being of women. The Business Center for New Americans and the Damayan Migrant Workers Association provide shining examples.

The Business Center for New Americans promotes the American dream of financial independence and home ownership, providing refugees, immigrants, women, and other New Yorkers with the information, counsel, and support needed to thrive financially. They advance entrepreneurship through microlending, combined with training and technical assistance, and homeownership through down payment assistance, training, and access to incentives.

The Damayan Migrant Workers Association empowers low-wage workers to fight for their rights by building leadership at the grassroots level to eliminate labor trafficking, fight labor fraud and wage theft, and to demand fair labor standards to achieve economic and social justice.

The New York Women’s Foundation is proud to support and salute these organizations, and our other grantee partners in this space, for their efforts to secure a better future for the thousands of women of color and immigrant women in our workforce. They, and those they assist, are our heroes on Labor Day and every day.

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Camille Emeagwali is vice president of programs at The New York Women’s Foundation.

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Tags: equal pay


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