For African-American Women—and All Women—Let’s Make Every Day Equal Pay Day

Your Take: When we have a Congress that looks more like the country it represents, we’ll get policies that best serve everyone in the country—including paycheck fairness for American women.

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Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) speaking at a Sept. 10, 2013, event at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When we talk about the gender pay gap, most of us are already familiar with the fact that women make just 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. While this remains true, not all women are even that fortunate. For African-American women the wage gap is even larger. African-American women make just 64 cents for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts.

This discrepancy is unacceptable. And we need better policies and more leaders who will fight for policies that will begin to change this imbalance. We need women in elected office who will speak up for the millions of women across the country who are working hard while not being paid a fair wage.

And here’s what the wage gap really means: It takes a white man and an African-American woman vastly different amounts of time to earn the same amount of money, regardless of the fact that they started working on the same day. If they both began work on Jan. 1, 2013, he would earn a full salary by Dec. 31, 2013—while it would take until July 21, 2014, for her to earn the same amount.

That’s why today, July 21, is her Equal Pay Day.

But her paycheck doesn’t reset today. Every day the wage gap pushes her earnings further and further behind. That gap keeps growing, putting her and her family’s future in jeopardy. If we allow continuance of the pay gap, she’ll never catch up.

That’s why Democratic women in Congress are fighting to make sure Equal Pay Day is not an annual occurrence, but every day. That’s why Democratic women have been championing policies to end gender discrimination in pay for years—because we understand the economic and social consequences of allowing the pay gap to persist—discrimination that hits women of color the hardest.

Earning 64 cents on the dollar is the national statistic for African-American women. But in Alabama, that gap is even larger: African-American women in Alabama make just 56 cents for every dollar earned by their white male colleagues.

These women will not reach their Equal Pay Day until Oct. 13.

According to studies, there are more than 177,000 African-American women in Alabama working full time, year-round, making an average annual income of less than $28,000. Their annual wage gap is more than $21,000. Many of these women bring in half or more of their families’ incomes, which means that when these women lose income, the economic security and stability of their families is diminished.

Paycheck fairness isn’t just a problem for women; it’s also a problem for families.

This is why every woman EMILY’s List has helped elect to Congress is proud to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was introduced to offer real protections and ensure that America’s women are paid the same as the other half of our nation’s workforce. Democratic women in Congress, including leaders like Reps. Gwen Moore and Donna Edwards, are fighting for the Paycheck Fairness Act and other policies that offer real protections to ensure equal pay for equal work. They know that if they don’t speak up to end this discrimination, no one will.

But to make these policies a reality, we need more women in office. Women like Bonnie Watson Coleman, Brenda Lawrence and Alma Adams. And support from EMILY’s List is going to help them get here, too.

It’s hard to have your voice heard if there is no one seated at the tables of power to speak for you, your family and your community. That’s why having more women at the decision-making table makes a real difference. And why having more African-American women at the table who can be a voice for their communities makes a difference.

That’s why EMILY’s List has been working for nearly 30 years to help bring more women to the table and build a government that looks more like the country it represents. When we have that government, we will get the policies that best serve everyone in the country—policies that make every day Equal Pay Day. 

Rep. Terri Sewell serves Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, which encompasses the city of Selma. She is a co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Follow her on Twitter. Stephanie Schriock is president of EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, which has helped elect every Democratic woman of color currently serving in Congress. Follow her on Twitter.

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