It’s once again Black Women’s Equal Pay Day—the day that marks approximately how much longer a Black woman must work to earn as much as her white, non-Hispanic male counterparts earned the previous year. Reaching “parity” by August 13 means that as of 2020, Black women still earn 62 cents on the dollar (compared to the average white woman, who is currently paid 70 cents), a number that remained consistent for the past three years that we’ve been covering the day here at The Glow Up.
Global nonprofit Catalyst (full disclosure: of which this writer is a former employee) defines the gender pay gap as:
- Lack of equal pay for work of equal or similar value; and
- Underrepresentation of women—again, particularly women of color—in higher-paying jobs, roles, and careers.
More than any other year in the history of commemorating Black Women’s Equal Day Pay, 2020 has revealed how crucial it is to close the gender pay gap—and how intrinsically the imbalance is woven into not only sexism but systemic racism. Never has the disparity been more demonstrable—and dangerous—than during the crisis caused by COVID-19, which has wrought not only widespread unemployment but highlighted the importance of “essential workers,” which span from doctors and medical workers to public transportation drivers to mail carriers to cashiers and more.
As the Economic Policy Institute indicated through its own research, not only do Black women experience disparities in all these fields, but they experience them at every socioeconomic level. For instance, Black female doctors are paid 73 percent of the average hourly wage of non-Hispanic white male doctors—a $16.82 hourly shortfall. Meanwhile, Black women who work as waitstaff are paid 89 percent less, comprising a difference of $1.13 per hour. And the inequalities persist, even when Black women comprise the majority of the respective workforce in that field.
Black women even face pay disparities in occupations where they account for a larger share of the workforce than do white men. For example, according to our estimates of the race and gender distribution of those employed in each occupation, 9% of registered nurses are Black women and 7% of registered nurses are non-Hispanic white men. Yet, non-Hispanic white men make about $6 more per hour than Black women in this occupation (average hourly wages of $34.87 and $28.74, respectively). Similarly, child care workers are three times as likely to be Black women as to be non-Hispanic white men (of all child care workers, 13% are Black women and 4% are non-Hispanic white men). However, white male child care workers make nearly $3 more per hour than Black women on average. Finally, while teachers arguably play one of the most crucial roles in getting the economy back on track, the average hourly wage of Black women employed as elementary and middle school teachers is just 79% that of non-Hispanic white men employed in the profession (a difference of $6.94).
As these figures show, Black women have been essential during the pandemic and are essential as the economy struggles to reopen. Equal pay for Black women workers is long overdue.
Of course, these numbers don’t even take into account the massive job losses that occurred in March and April as the coronavirus crisis forced lockdowns across the country—a threat that has now returned as infection rates have once again begun spiking in parts of the country.
As reported by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) in May:
Women are overrepresented in the front-line workforce, making up the vast majority of workers risking their lives to provide health care, child care, and other essential services. Women are also far more likely than men to work in part-time, low-paid, and/or tipped jobs, meaning women were often struggling to make ends meet before the crisis hit—and faced a higher risk of losing their jobs as retail stores, restaurants, and other service sector businesses were forced to lay off workers or close their doors entirely.
In fact, Fortune cited NWLC’s report in early June for an article aptly titled: “The 2.5 million jobs the economy gained in May went to almost everyone except black women,” which noted: “unemployment for black women increased slightly, to 16.5 [percent], in May from 16.4 [percent] in April...The overall black unemployment rate also increased, to 16.8 [percent], from 16.7 [percent].”
As the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly jobs report points out, even as the economy started to rebound slightly in May and June, gaining back 4.8 million jobs (or 1 in 3 of the 22.2 million jobs lost), women remained the most vulnerable, as nearly 6 in 10 jobs regained were in leisure and hospitality (which includes bars and restaurants) and retail. These are fields in which women predominate, and those most likely to shut down again with reimposed restrictions, as NWLC pointed out in June:
Even after June’s gains, Black women and Latinas continue to be hardest hit by the economic crisis: While the overall unemployment rate dropped to 11.1% in June, approximately 1 in 7 Black women (14.0%) and Latinas (15.3%) remained unemployed.
To put this in harsher perspective, Catalyst makes it plain: “The unemployment rates for Black women and Latinas were three times higher in June than they were in February, before the pandemic.”
So what can be done to improve the odds for working Black women? Catalyst VP for Strategic Engagement Serena Fong writes that for companies looking to address the issue of systemic racism amid the ongoing protests in support of Black lives, closing the pay gap is a “hugely important” component, outlining four concrete steps companies need to take right now.
This conversation is especially crucial as we understand that “Black mothers are by far the most likely to be the primary source of economic support for their families; they are more than twice as likely as white mothers to be their family’s breadwinner, and more than 50 percent more likely than Hispanic mothers,” according to a 2019 report by the Center for American Progress. That means that—as many of us are already fully aware—when Black women win, Black communities also benefit. America wins, too, as noted by the Economic Policy Institute in a June article titled “Why putting Black women first may save us from economic disaster,” which reported:
Black women are bearing the brunt of this economic crisis, and keep in mind that Black women were already underpaid upwards of $50 billion [italics mine] in forfeited wages before the pandemic, according to economist Michelle Holder. These findings illustrate an ugly truth: COVID-19 is laying bare the structural inequities that compound when race and gender intersect—inequities that may be best addressed through recentering economic policy on Black women.
To further discuss the impact of pay inequality upon Black women in the workplace and our options in combatting it, a series of events are taking place on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day:
9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET: Catalyst’s Serena Fong and Director of Corporate Engagement Aledia Evans host a LinkedIn Live conversation on “Racism and the Gender Pay Gap”.
10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET: Equal Pay Today hosts a free live conversation on its Facebook page “about race, economic theft, and how the subminimum wage for tipped workers hurts Black women nationwide,” featuring: Erika Alexander, Actress (Living Single, Get Out, Black Lightning); Saru Jayaraman, President, One Fair Wage; Nikki Cole, National Policy Campaign Director, One Fair Wage Beejhy Barhany, Owner, Tsion Cafe, Harlem; Fatima Goss Graves, President, National Women Law Center; Shannon Williams, Leader of Equal Pay Today at Equal Rights Advocates; Nicole Mason, President, Institute for Women’s Policy Research; Melanie Campbell, President, NCBCP/Black Women’s Roundtable; Jocelyn Frye, Center for American Progress; and Angie Jean-Marie, Times Up.
Join the discussion! The Root is hosting its first-ever, virtual Root Institute, presented by Target, featuring several of the leading minds in our community talking about politics, culture, health, community building and social impact. Subscribe for updates today!