This piece was originally published in Glamour and was co-authored by Jessicah Pierre, a media specialist at Inequality.org and founder of Queens Company, an organization dedicated to empowering women of color.
What would you do with an additional $20,000 dollars? It’s a question that might seem rhetorical, but to many women of color, it’s one that’s perfectly logical due to an overwhelming wage gap, a disparity that’s acknowledged yearly with Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which is today.
Recent data from the National Women’s Law Center shows that while women in the U.S. make 80 cents to every dollar white men make, black women working the same number of hours typically make just 63 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. And with median wages for black women in the United States at $35,382 per year, compared with $56,386 for white, non-Hispanic men, this amounts to a loss of about $21,698 each year for African American women and their families.
Considering the high-profile strides black women have made in various industries during the past few years, it’s hard to fathom the gap exists so broadly. Black women, who, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, are attaining college degrees at higher rates than before, are leading politically (and campaigning to make history), are changing the Hollywood landscape with nuanced storytelling (and unprecedented deals), crushing the sports world, and even maintaining the top spot as the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs.
And the gap isn’t unique to black women in lower- and middle-wage jobs who are facing discrimination: According to a new joint study by leanin.org, the National Urban League, and SurveyMonkey, “The [wage] gap actually widens for black women with more education.” In fact, for black women, it takes 200 days to “catch up.”
In 1996 the National Committee on Pay Equity decided to bring awareness to this disparity by creating Equal Pay Day. The day marks how long it takes for a woman to make the same amount of money a white man makes for the prior year. Each year, Equal Pay Day for All is held in April to acknowledge that it takes an average woman about 16 months to make what a typical white man makes in a year.
But when we look at the wage gap for black women, this day of “catching up” falls later in the year, on August 7. Black women have to work more than 200 additional days to make the same amount of money a white man makes in a year. And these numbers matter, especially as the gap widens. It’s not clear when black women will be able to catch up. But there are things we can do to inch closer. On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, we take a look:
Why Does the Black Women’s Wage Gap Matter?
For the millions of black women who are working hard and still struggling to make ends meet, it’s obvious that losing out on thousands of dollars in income each year is detrimental for their well-being. But there are additional reasons that closing the black women’s wage gap is so important. Aside from obvious discrimination, black women, perhaps more than any other demographic, need higher wages.
According to 2013 data from the Center for American Progress, nearly 75 percent of black breadwinning mothers are unmarried (compared with 29 percent of white women). In other words, they are paying the rent or mortgage, feeding the family, procuring health care, and more on their own. This also impacts black women’s ability to build wealth. Wealth, defined as what you own minus what you owe, is the ultimate measure of economic security, and black women have far too little of it. According to the Asset Funders Network, median wealth for single black women in the U.S. is $200. Raising wages will provide black women with more money to save and invest.
What Can We Do About It?
The good news is that there are policy proposals to increase black women’s wages and close the wage gap. Below are just a few key proposals.
Raise the minimum wage.
According to “Bare Minimum: Why We Need to Raise Wages for America’s Lowest Paid Families,” a new report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, black women are more likely than any other group to benefit from a $15 minimum wage. (Black women are disproportionately working in low-wage jobs.)
And while there is very little action at the federal level to increase the minimum wage, many state legislators know that raising wages is good for both families and the local economy. And they are acting.
In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “18 states began the new year with higher minimum wages. Eight states (Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Dakota) automatically increased their rates based on the cost of living, while 10 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) increased their rates due to previously approved legislation or ballot initiatives.”
Economic justice advocates are also working hard locally to advance a $15-an-hour minimum wage that increases with inflation over time. As a result, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have passed $15-an-hour minimum wage ordinances.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, union membership is key to helping to close the black women’s wage gap:
“Black women have traditionally faced a double pay gap—a gender pay gap and a racial wage gap. EPI’s [Economic Policy Institute] research has shown that…unions help reduce these pay gaps. Working black women in unions are paid 94.9 percent of what their black male counterparts make, while nonunion black women are paid just 91 percent of their counterparts.”
Unfortunately, the recent Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME will weaken unions. The new ruling creates a situation where workers like Janus, a white man, are no longer required to pay their “fair share” in union dues, even though they benefit from union organizing and collective bargaining agreements.
To learn more the importance of advancing collective bargaining initiatives and fair labor practices, check out inequality.org.
Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
At the end of the day, it’s employers, not the government, that set wages. And the Equal Pay Act, which was signed into law 50 years ago, was designed to regulate the behavior of corporations by outlawing wage discrimination based on sex. Unfortunately, it’s clear from the persistence of the wage gap that the Equal Pay Act hasn’t worked.
We need to strengthen the Equal Pay Act and ensure that it protects black women from wage gaps based on race and gender. That’s where the Paycheck Fairness Act comes in. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, the Paycheck Fairness Act will add teeth to the Equal Pay Act by helping to “ensure the Department of Labor [DOL] uses the full range of investigatory tools to uncover wage discrimination.”
For example, the Paycheck Fairness Act would make employers accountable for proving that wage differences are a result of legitimate, job-related issues. It would also protect women and men who share their salaries with each other from retaliation by employers. Finally, the Act would provide women and girls with training in negotiating skills.
Make no mistake. Wage discrimination has a direct impact on the balance sheets of black women. The wage gap hurts both families and the economy. Addressing this damage is key to improving our personal and communal financial health. By learning more about the policies above and advocating with our legislators and corporate leaders, we can ensure that we achieve wage equality and are finally paid what we deserve.
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