Pay Inequity Threatens College Student’s American DreamApril 23, 2013
Reshma Daniel’s parents and brothers moved to America from India with just $20. They worked hard but ultimately left for Canada in search of better pay. Daniel was born in Canada, where her parents lived paycheck to paycheck for nine years. The family moved back to America in 2001 in hopes that Daniel and her brothers would be able to live the American dream.
For Daniel, the American dream means law school. A senior at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, she majors in legal studies and job shadowed a family lawyer last summer. Following a pretrial hearing, another lawyer, a Vietnamese woman, told Daniel that she should not become a lawyer because of the gender wage gap.
“She was like, ‘You won’t get paid. As a woman and of color, you’re going to be underpaid, so there’s really no point,’” Daniel recalled. The woman told her, “It’s already really hard for myself. First off, I’m a woman, and I don’t get paid that much compared to my male counterparts, and then I’m Vietnamese. You’re going to waste all of this money. You’re just going to go to law school and you’re going to waste all this money.”
Daniel said that the woman told her that even if Daniel worked hard and advocated effectively, she would be paid less and not be able to pay off her student loans. Suddenly Daniel found herself rethinking the plan she’d had since her junior year of high school. She had known for years that she wanted to be a lawyer and, more recently, had decided to focus on working against sex trafficking.
However, the lawyer’s words weren’t the first time Daniel had heard of pay inequity. She had learned about the wage gap during a class on feminism her freshman year of college, but the reality of the situation didn’t sink in until that lawyer’s comments.
Daniel spent some time thinking about her future and has ultimately decided to pursue a law degree when she graduates in December. She hopes that the gender wage gap will be solved by the time she graduates.
“I want to prove to myself and to others that you can follow your dreams,” she said. “You do have to worry about pay inequity right now, but I’m not going to do not do what I want to do.”
Daniel is the first woman in her family to get an education in America, and after years of hard work, she deserves to be paid fairly when she achieves her dream. But she needs help from Congress through passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which gives employees the tools they need to end unequal pay practices.
As AAUW research shows, female graduates are paid 7 percent less than male graduates despite working in the same fields and with the same college majors. This pay gap causes women to have more trouble paying off their student loans — and keeps them from achieving the American dream.