Putting Tubman on $20 bill doesn’t erase earning gaps


It is about time.

A woman, former slave Harriet Tubman, will be the new face of the $20 bill. Fittingly, she will bump Andrew Jackson, who owned slaves, to the back of the bill.

Also in last month’s announcement from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was news that other women and minorities will be depicted on the redesigned $5 and $10 bills.

The $5 bill, which will still feature Abraham Lincoln on the front, will honor historic events that took place at the Lincoln Memorial. Added to its back will be images of Martin Luther King Jr. and African-American opera singer Marian Anderson, who performed on the steps of the memorial in 1939 after she was denied the use of Constitution Hall because of her race.

The front of the new $10 note will continue to feature Alexander Hamilton, but images on the back will depict women’s suffrage leaders — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul — and their 1913 march that ended at the Treasury building.

(To learn more about these changes to our currency, go to the Treasury website at modernmoney.treasury.gov.)

Does it really matter that women’s faces will now be on our currency?

Ivy Baker Priest, U.S. treasurer under President Dwight Eisenhower, once said that women don’t care about being depicted on money “as long as we can get our hands on it.”

Except our hands haven’t gotten on as much of it as we deserve.

Women still earn less than men. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was supposed to ensure that men and women earn the same compensation for the same job. Yet there is still a gender pay gap, and it’s even greater for women of color.

The National Women’s Law Center recently released an analysis concluding that, based on the gender gap, women would be shortchanged $430,480 over the course of a 40-year career. (The figures weren’t adjusted for inflation.)

The loss would be $877,480 for African-American women, and more than $1 million for Latinas. You can find a state-by-state look at nwlc.org.

Many African-Americans struggle financially.

A report by the Working Families Project found that, in 2013, the median net worth of white households was 13 times higher than that of African-American households.

“The wealth gap between whites and blacks is currently at its highest level since 1989,” the group said.

“Blacks also were about three times as likely as whites in 2011 to be living below the poverty line (28 percent vs. 10 percent),” wrote Rich Morin, a senior editor at Pew Research Center. “This gap has remained about the same in recent decades.”

Treasury says the final designs for the new $5, $10 and $20 notes will be unveiled in 2020, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

“This process has been much bigger than one square inch on one bill,” Lew said. “Of course, more work remains to tell the rich and textured history of our country. But with this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women, as well as men, to our great democracy.”

Although a symbolic move, the currency makeover hopefully will lead to more discussions, research and efforts to close the income and wealth gaps that are financially holding back so many families.

It may not get many folks to acknowledge that much more has to be done to address economic inequality. But recognizing the hard work and sacrifices made to improve the financial lives of the disenfranchised does demonstrate these icons represent people who matter.

Because money matters.

Washington Post Writers Group

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