Why Is the Gender Wage Gap Higher for Black Women in New York City and What Can Be Done?

Illustration for article titled Why Is the Gender Wage Gap Higher for Black Women in New York City and What Can Be Done?
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Here’s a not-so-fun fact: While we spend Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2018 raging against the sexist, racist, patriarchal machine that results in black women making 62 cents to every dollar white men do, it has recently been revealed that that disparity is even worse for black women in America’s largest city.


Though New York City prides itself on being one of the most progressive (and privileged) cities in the world, a new report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has revealed that the city has fallen shamefully behind—even in comparison to the rest of the state—in addressing the issue of equal pay.

The report, titled Inside the Gender Wage Gap, Part 1: Earnings of Black Women in New York City, is the first in a series on the economic experiences of women of color, published on Aug. 3, just ahead of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2018. Its findings, culled from U.S. Census Bureau earnings data from 2010 to 2016 (the last year currently available) revealed that on average, black women working full-time in the five boroughs that comprise New York City make 43 percent less than their white male cohorts, as compared to the 38 percent national average.

Acknowledging that this disparity is a result of both gender and race-based discrimination, a portion of the introduction to the Comptroller’s study reads:

While the Equal Pay Act of 1963 officially prohibited gender-based wage discrimination, it was not until the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year that race became a protected class. That women of color experience discrimination at work on the basis of both sex and race—and that it is precisely the intersection of marginalized identities that compounds economic disparities—has long been sidelined in prevailing conversations about equal pay, especially at the national level.

Among the major findings (as stated verbatim from the report):

  • In 2016, black women working full-time in New York City made 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men—roughly $32,000 less on average.
  • The wage gap for black women in New York City is larger than for black women in New York and the U.S.—43 cents compared to 34 cents and 37 cents, respectively. If New York City were to observe its own local Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, it would be October 3rd, a full nine months into the year.
  • Over a 40-year career, the median full-time working black woman in New York City would lose on average over $1,274,000 in earnings due to the gender wage gap. She would have to work an additional 30 years to attain the same earnings as her white, male counterpart.
  • If the gender wage gap were closed, the more than 350,000 black women working full-time, year-round in New York City in 2016 would have collectively contributed around $11.2 billion more in earnings to the local economy.
  • In 2016, nearly one in four (23.4 percent) black women and girls in New York City lived in poverty, more than twice the rate among white men and boys (11.3 percent) and nearly twice the rate among white women and girls (12.8 percent).
  • Between 2010 and 2016, the growth in attainment of bachelor’s and graduate degrees among black women outpaced that of women across racial and ethnic groups; the proportion of black women 25-years-old or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew 14.5 percent during that time, compared to 9.0 percent for white men.

As a black, female editor at a New York City-based publication run and staffed predominantly by black women, I was, of course, eager to speak with Comptroller Stringer directly. The Comptroller graciously complied, giving The Glow Up further insight on why black women—despite being among the city’s most educated residents—are being left behind in economic gains, and what his office hopes to do to to improve their odds:

You know, New York City likes to tout its progressive values, but our analysis found that black women here earn less on the dollar compared to white men than in the rest of the state and the country. And my view is that we have not put in place the programs to match our rhetoric. And so, if we’re going to continue to ourselves progressive, we need to implement an emergency plan; and among the things I think we have to do is we must expand access to affordable child care, we have got to invest in programs that direct capital to black women entrepreneurs and increase recruitment into these high paying fields.


The Comptroller also believes in the power of appointing Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs), telling us he’d not only like to see one report directly to Mayor Bill de Blasio, but the creation of CDOs in 31 city agencies to help amend current procurement policies that are not driving dollars to women and minority owned-businesses (MWBEs).

As an example, the Comptroller shares with us a statistic not included in his report: New York City procures, on average, 21 billion dollars in goods and services annually. However, only 4.5 percent of those dollars currently go to MWBEs.


“And that has to be our point of entry,” he says. “Because the goal here is wealth creation that lifts up people of all backgrounds and all zip codes. And we do not have that plan in place—and part of it is we don’t have people in government whose job it is to think about this every single day.”

He points to his own success in appointing a CDO to the Comptroller’s office as evidence of its effectiveness, saying, “It’s made a big difference, both in terms of our own city agency spend and also working with agencies around the city.”


But this is only one of the Comptroller’s recommendations; while he (understandably) hesitates to call anyone within the city agencies “inherently racist,” he believes that their failure to open their doors to new talent is ultimately a detriment not only to MWBEs, but to the city as a whole, explaining:

I’ll give you an example: So, if you’re a black woman entrepreneur and you become a certified MWBE, you say “Okay I’m on my way,” right? And then you call up a city agency and say, “Look, I have a business plan, I have a business, I’m certified, I’m playing by the rules”—and the door’s closed to you. And that’s because agencies end up doing business with the people they’ve always done business with ... it’s hard to do something new, or to let new people in the door. But the failure of keeping their doors closed is having a real impact throughout the city; especially women of color, but it’s also children who don’t get the benefit of that wealth creation.


And for a metropolis accustomed to leading the nation, Comptroller Stringer agrees that to be lagging behind in advancing equality is both unacceptable and embarrassing. He also seems to think the solution begins with the things New York City has traditionally done best: big business—and even bigger ideas.

We see what’s happening with black women and the city; everyone loves to talk about it, but no one has a solution. And I think that there are ways to deal with this, and it starts with our women and minority-owned businesses. ... [P]art of what I believe very strongly is it’s all about creating wealth and diversifying that. And that’s not how we think in New York, and we’ve gotta start thinking like that.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



Last October, California passed a law that made it illegal for employers to ask for previous pay. Basically, they can’t ask you and must present a range of pay, https://www.sfgate.com/business/networth/article/New-law-bans-California-employers-from-asking-12274431.php

I (I’m Black and Mexican mostly and a woman, working in finance) got a new job this past May. While it wasn’t the job for me and I quit within two weeks, the new law meant that I was able to literally increase my pay by about 20%. Because the range they gave me was higher than my current salary. Which meant that for the first time in my 15-year career, I was earning what I WAS ACTUALLY WORTH.

Of course, they can still lowball you by giving you the lower range and BS reasons why. But at least you have a fighting chance now. And that’s a law that should be in all 50 states, frankly.