Black Women's Equal Pay Day is August 7th. What It Means And What We Can Do About It
Equal Pay Day is a poignant and frustrating concept in its own right – it's a symbolic day that represents how long the average woman must work to match the earnings of the average non-Hispanic white man in the previous year. It provides a tangible and easily visualized way for people to grapple with the impact of gender discrimination and wage inequality on American women.
First observed in 1996, this year's Equal Pay Day was April 10th. This day can be used as a tool to recognize and call attention to the wage gap and the forces that contribute to it; however, April 10th isn't the only Equal Pay Day that warrants attention. When race and motherhood are considered, more Equal Pay Days, calculated using current statistics on pay inequity, reach further and further into the calendar year. This year, Black Women's Equal Pay Day is August 7th -- over seven months into the year and nearly four full months after Equal Pay Day for all women.
WHY THE WAGE GAP EXISTS
Those fighting for wage equality are often met with the critique that the wage gap is caused by women who freely choose lower-paying jobs. While women often do work in fields that pay less, this doesn't come close to telling the full story. Recent research shows that, "even controlling for race, region, unionization status, education, work experience, occupation, and industry leaves 38 percent of the pay gap 'unexplained.' Discrimination is thought to be a major cause of this unexplained gap."
It's not a coincidence that jobs considered "women's work" typically pay lower wages. According to the National Women’s Law Center, "'Women’s' jobs often pay less precisely because women do them. A study of more than 50 years of data revealed that when women moved into a field in large numbers, wages declined, even when controlling for experience, skills, education, race and region."
According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, the more women and people of color that are in an occupation, the less it pays. Wage secrecy, hostile work environments, companies' lack of accountability, gender stereotypes, insufficient laws, and ineffective legal processes, also prevent women from making as much money as men.
BLACK WOMEN FACE A LARGER WAGE GAP
Things get even more surprising – and even more disheartening – when the impact of the wage gap on American women takes race and ethnicity into account. While strides have been made in recent years, the impact of positive change has largely been limited to white women. The typical Black woman must work until August 7th, 2018 in order to match the earnings made by their white, male counterparts in 2017. In CT, Black women earn just 58 cents on every dollar made by the average white man.
This disparity is caused by racism, sexism, and other systemic problems that disproportionately interfere with the success of women of color. Despite the fact that Black women participate in the workforce at higher rates than Black men and other women, their earnings are suppressed because they face the intersection of sexism and racism each and every day, both in and out of the workplace.
A VICIOUS CYCLE
The roots of these disparities can be traced back to early childhood. Black children are disproportionately educated in high-poverty schools, which tend to receive less funding and consequently can provide fewer educational opportunities for their students. Black women who go to college are more likely to need financial assistance in the form of student loans; they take on more debt, on average, than members of any other demographic group. In an article on the women's student debt crisis, the AAUW writes, "Because of the gender pay gap, [women] have less disposable income with which to repay their loans after graduation, requiring more time to pay back their student debt than do men. As a result, women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States — almost $900 billion as of mid-2018." This struggle is compounded for Black women, who face an even larger pay gap.
This gender- and race-based wage gap means the average Black woman loses out on $21,968 annually, cutting into her retirement savings as well as her ability to take care of her family or pay off her student loans. Eight out of ten Black mothers in the US are the primary breadwinners for their families, and generally, women make even less money when they become mothers. This means that the wage gap impacts families, particularly families of color. It inhibits educational opportunities for children of color and perpetuates the cycle of income inequality.
Currently, more than 1.3 million family households headed by Black women live in poverty. The difference between current wages and fair, equitable wages for working mothers, especially Black mothers, is sometimes the difference between being on one side of the poverty line and the other.
Eliminating the wage gap would not only lift these families out of poverty and provide more opportunities for Black children, it would also support the economy as a whole. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, if the wage gap were eliminated, Black women who work full time would have enough money for "two and a half years of childcare, nearly 2.5 additional years of tuition and fees for a four-year public university...159 more weeks of food for her family, more than 14 additional months of mortgage and utilities payments, or twenty-two more months of rent.
The wage gap cannot be explained away by the choices women make. This is not an issue of women placing themselves into certain industries or low-paying professions. Almost 40% of the wage gap is caused by discrimination – the disparity persists regardless of industry or education level and it exists within occupations.
WHAT WE CAN DO
In Connecticut, this gap is larger than you might think. While nationally, the average Black woman who works full-time makes 63 cents on every white man's dollar, in Connecticut, she makes only 58 cents. This is an issue facing our state, right now. It is caused by discrimination and bias, and it needs to change. We can and must take action for the benefit of all working women, especially mothers and women of color, by supporting policies such as:
- protections that help identify and challenge discriminatory pay and employment practices and address gender-based occupational segregation
- minimum wage increases
- family friendly workplace supports like paid family and medical leave and paid sick days
- affordable child care
- access to comprehensive reproductive health care
Over two-thirds of US voters favor policies like these, but we haven't seen a whole lot of change. Some of these policies have been implemented in Connecticut – recently, the state banned asking salary history questions – but others, such as paid family and medical leave, have been raised as issues but not passed into law, despite public support. In addition to supporting these policy initiatives, we have a responsibility to ensure that girls – especially girls of color and in low-income areas – have equal access to a quality public education.
We owe it to ourselves, to our state, to our country, to our sisters and mothers and wives and daughters, and especially to young girls of color, to fight for change. We should not be okay with the current projections for the year women will reach pay equality with men (at this rate, it's 2059, but has the potential of climbing even higher). Higher pay for women of color is just one step towards reaching true racial and gender equality in this country – but it's a crucial step in breaking the cycle of discriminatory practices we have now.
We're challenging you to #DemandMore at work, as a consumer, and at the ballot box. Join CWEALF and the Campaign for Paid Family Leave for a Social Media storm on Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday, August 7th from 2-3PM using #BlackWomensEqualPayDay and #DemandMore.
Julia Hammond is CWEALF's Communications Intern and a rising junior at Fordham University. Read her blog posts "On the 46th Anniversary of Title IX, there's still more work to be done" and Celebrating 45 Years of CWEALF History.
By Julia Hammond, Communications Intern at 6 Aug 2018, 11:23 AM
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