Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Today is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, and represents how much farther into the current calendar year the average Black woman must work to make the same amount that her white male counterpart made the previous year.
On average, Black women typically make just 62 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, according to Equal Pay Today. Parental status also impacts the wage gap, with Black mothers making just 50 cents to every dollar a white father makes. The pandemic and social unrest about racial injustice have amplified existing inequities in America.
“Caregiving duties are falling on women across the board, and Black women are more likely to be family breadwinners and also single mothers,” says Chandra Thomas Whitfield, journalist and podcast host of “In The Gap.” “This year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is especially unique, because we are either working from home or, if you’re an essential worker, trying to figure out childcare. At the same time, research shows that women and minorities tend to be the first fired and last rehired during an economic downturn, so it will be even harder for Black women to catch up.”
So why are Black women already starting from so far behind? Here is what some of the research tells us:
Black women are strapped with student loans. Blacks in the U.S. are among those most likely to earn a postsecondary degree, and roughly 64 percent of Black students earning bachelor’s degrees are women. This may be a positive, but there is a financial impact.
“We’re among the most educated, yet we’re getting paid less and we’re also straddled with debt from student loans,” says Thomas Whitfield. “Even the money we make is not our money, because we have to give it back to loans.”
Black women shoulder the majority of work and caregiving duties. A whopping 80% of Black women are the primary breadwinners for their household, and about two-thirds head households alone. Black women also make up a disproportionate amount of the labor force, and small businesses founded by Black women have grown by 164% since 2007.
“There is this concept of ‘the strong Black woman’ and a societal pressure to work harder, go to school, and take care of kids and parents and everyone all the time,” says Thomas Whitfield. “Black women have never not worked. Black women are unique in that we were brought to this country as laborers ourselves, and our role was to bear more laborers. So Black women have not only contributed to the American economy by working, but also by birthing more laborers who also worked for free, for centuries.”
Bias is a real barrier in the workplace. One example of racial bias in the workplace is that Black applicants who use white-sounding names on resumes are more than twice as likely to be called for an interview.
“There needs to be a point of grace that allows hiring managers to think beyond what a candidate may look or even sound like,” says Talisa Lavarry, author of the new book Confessions from Your Token Black Colleague. “When it comes to minorities, our characteristics are oftentimes different from what most hiring managers typically gravitate towards. If managers are not intentionally challenging themselves to be inclusive, their subconscious idea of an ideal candidate is more than likely laced in bias. It all plays a role in the systemic racism that prevents a lot of Black women in particular from even coming close to checking all of the boxes. It’s beyond time for companies to acknowledge the unique struggles that we face and make reasonable accommodations and investments in creating welcoming, equitable and sustainable work environments that we can all thrive within.”
Minorities make up the majority of essential workers. Women and minorities make up the majority of the frontline and essential workers. Essential workers are also more likely to live below or just at the federal poverty line, and to live with other frontline workers, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data in the country’s 100 largest cities.
The racial wealth gap is real. A white household headed by a person with only a high school diploma has nearly 10 times the wealth of a Black household headed by a person with the same degree. One reason? Buying a home has been a traditional path to accumulating wealth, yet research shows Blacks may be denied mortgages twice as often as whites.
“It’s hard for [Black women] to admit that we are at a deficit, from our home life to the lack of economic resources to the lack of educational opportunities,” says Lavarry. “There are so many layers to this, many of us are born into generational poverty. When we want to make something of ourselves, there are countless barriers that we have to find a way to overcome, not to mention the overwhelming risks that we have to take.”
The financial inequality experienced by Black women is harmful to our economy, our families, and our society. “I hope this moment in history, as we see a renewed interest in the Black Lives Matter Movement, can be a turning point for people to not judge or debate, but just to listen to what people are going through,” says Thomas Whitfield. “We want to be able to take care of ourselves and be financially independent. I wish employers understood that if you compensate workers fairly, you will get so much more out of your employees. We have to start somewhere.”
Article originally published in Forbes