After a year and a half of a deadly pandemic, much has changed in American life, but one thing has not: regardless of occupation, on average, Black women still make 63 cents for every dollar made by her white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. This is why we recognize Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, signaling how much longer Black women working full time must work to “catch up” to the annual earnings of their peers. Currently, it takes 19 months for a Black woman to earn what a white man in a comparable role made in a year—despite Black women having “the highest levels of labor market participation regardless of age, marital status, or presence of children at home,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Not to be confused with Equal Pay Day, which averages out the deficit for women of all races and thus occurs much earlier in the year (March 24 in 2021)., Black Women’s Equal Pay Day acknowledges that Black women are also paid less than their white and Asian female counterparts. Native American women and Latinas fare even worse; their Equal Pay Days are on September 8 and October 21, respectively. (No metrics are currently available for women who identify as Black and Latina.)
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day also recognizes the nuances affecting Black women, who are overrepresented in essential and low-wage occupations; jobs that took on new meaning at the onset of a pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns. “These occupations include frontline workers in health care and essential businesses like grocery stores, those who have borne the brunt of job losses in the restaurant industry, and teachers and child care workers,” Valerie Wilson reports for the Economic Policy Institute in a release sent to The Root.
As she notes, despite the fact that Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2021 arrives ten days earlier than in 2020, it is not cause for celebration. This year’s date is based on a comparison of median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers as reported in the 2020 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS), which references data gathered in 2019. This means this year’s date “is more a statement about pay equity during the pre-COVID period of historically low unemployment than the impact of the pandemic.”
Instead, the pandemic has done even more damage to the wage gap; as The Root reported on Equal Pay Day this year:
[W]omen were pushed out of the workforce at four times the rate of their male counterparts over the past year; a statistic that is estimated to potentially set our workforce progress back a generation...All of the 140,000 jobs lost last December were held by women...Black and Latina women have suffered the highest job losses, with 154,000 Black women dropping out of the workforce in December alone.
As Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE), further explains:
Based on hourly wages available for 2020, the pandemic’s effect on pay inequality in 2020 is challenging to interpret since job losses were concentrated among low-wage occupations, which has the effect of skewing the distribution toward a higher average that is less representative of the workforce as a whole. These lower-paying jobs were concentrated in leisure and hospitality and education and health services—industries that employ a disproportionate share of women.
In fact, the pandemic’s effect on pay equity during 2020 is less about a relative difference in dollars per hour and more a matter of a disproportionate share of women—and Black women in particular—becoming unemployed and thus wageless. Nearly 1 in 5 Black women (18.3%) lost their jobs between February 2020 and April 2020, compared with 13.2% of white men (see figure below). As of June 2021, Black women’s employment was still 5.1 percentage points below February 2020 levels, while white men were down 3.7 percentage points.
Added to that are the issues of “occupational segregation” and the lack of a national paid leave policy, both of which keep Black women marginalized in low-wage and higher paying fields alike. “The combination of these factors means that, on average, women start their careers with a pay gap that they are never able to close,” Wilson notes. As a result, compared to a white non-Hispanic man, it has been estimated that Black women lose approximately one million dollars in earnings in their lifetimes due to the wage gap.
To help better understand “this systemic inequity, its impact on Black women’s lives and policy recommendations on how to close the gap,” The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has provided a series of resources and new research on the multiple factors contributing to unequal pay.
• Systemic Racism and the Gender Pay Gap: New research on how decades of discriminatory employment practices, intentionally inadequate legal protections and persistent racial stereotypes contribute to a pay gap that remains far wider for women of color than for white women.
• The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap: The gap between what women earn compared to their male counterparts has remained stubbornly persistent at about 82 cents on the dollar for the past several decades. This report explores the reasons behind the gap and outlines what can be done.
• Black Women and Student Debt. The gender pay gap contributes to the fact that Black women graduate from college with higher levels of student debt—and often have a difficult time paying it off. AAUW calls for equitable debt forgiveness policies that ensure that the neediest borrowers get the help they need.
Additionally, there are multiple events taking place to help us understand the devastating impact of unequal pay. On Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET, the Equal Rights Coalition will host “Black Women’s Equal Pay Day and the ERA.” Chairwoman and Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will be joining the event live along with remarks from Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), as well as other leading advocates for women’s equality and social and racial justice, including Monifa Bandele and Fatima Goss Graves. Jen Klein, co-chair of the White House Gender Policy Council, will also be speaking at the event. Registration is open now.
At 1 pm ET, White House correspondent, political analyst and author April Ryan will join Women Employed’s CEO Cherita Ellens for “Ensuring an Equitable Recovery for Black Women.” The virtual fireside chat promises to be “an important and timely conversation about what it will take to dismantle systemic barriers, grow the economic power of Black Women during the recovery and beyond, and close the wealth gap at the intersection of race and gender.” RSVP is required to attend.
From 6 to 7 p.m. ET, think tank Demos will host “A Woman’s Worth: The State of Black Women in the Economy,” featuring Demos President Taifa Smith Butler and and former Demos president Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us, in conversation; registration for the virtual event is required.
The conversations will no doubt be robust, but the fact that progress remains at a standstill is deeply telling. As Chandra Thomas Whitfield, award-winning writer and host-producer of the In the Gap podcast writes for the Guardian:
“Here’s the bottom line. The gender pay gap is wrong. It’s illegal, unjust, rampant and downright oppressive and...serves as yet another example of how American society often explicitly communicates to Black women—and the families that we disproportionately support despite our economic challenges—that we are not valuable and that we don’t matter.”
Corrected: Tuesday, August 3 at 4:25 p.m., ET: An earlier version of this article listed Rep. Barbara Lee’s jurisdiction as Texas when she is in fact a representative for California’s 13th District. The article has been corrected to reflect this.