It’s time to pay black women their due
For centuries, the work of black women has been essential to the creation, growth and functioning of this nation and its economy. Yet black women are still not getting their due.
September 21 is Equal Pay Day for Black Women.—marking how far in this year black women have to work to catch up to what non-Hispanic white men did last year alone.
The pay gap costs Black women $1,891 per month, $22,692 per year and a staggering loss of $907,680 over a 40 year career.
This gap largely stems from the fact that black women are overrepresented in low-paying jobs and face both racial and gender discrimination in the workplace. They are also often the two primary caregivers and breadwinners, but obsolete, sexist workplace policies too often force black women to choose between bringing home a paycheck and taking care of themselves and their families.
COVID-19 has only contributed to further away to these inequalities: many black women have lost their jobs, been forced to work part-time or have been excluded from the labor market altogether.
That’s why, earlier this year, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) interviewed black women across the country to understand how they really fared during the pandemic. Here is what we found:
- Nearly one in five black women (19%) say they have lost or quit their job during the pandemic, more than three in 10 (31%) say they or their employer have reduced their working hours, and nearly one in four (23%) say they changed jobs during the pandemic
- More than four in 10 black women (42%) earn $15 an hour or less, compared to just 13% of white men
- More than one in four Black women (27%) say their current or most recent job does not provide any main benefits, i.e. no health insurance, retirement benefits, paid sick leave, paid family or medical leave, or paid vacation
- More than one in four black women (28%) say their financial situation is worse now than before the pandemic began
- More than half of black women (51%) say the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health, but most black women who report a negative impact on mental health (73%) have not sought to seek treatment from a mental health professional, which may be pushed to the side by the discrimination black women have faced in the healthcare system, including the tendency for their concerns not to be taken seriously by healthcare professionals, as well as barriers to access and affordability
These inequalities, a product of entrenched white supremacist systems in the United States, cannot be resolved overnight. But based on our investigation, we have at least a starting point.
An overwhelming majority of black women (about 80% or more!) expressed support for the following policiesand many more:
- Gradually increase the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour, then automatically increase to keep pace with rising wages
- Provide access to comprehensive health care without cost sharing
- Increase the wage that employers are required to pay tipped workers, so that tipped workers are entitled to the same minimum wage as anyone else, before tips
- Grant employees the right to request a change in work schedules without fear of reprisal and require employers to provide at least two weeks’ notice of work schedules for those in flextime jobs
- Protecting employees’ right to discuss wages with colleagues, so employees can find out if they are being paid unfairly relative to their colleagues
Federal bills like the Paycheck Fairness Actthe Wage Increase Actthe Working Schedules Act, and others would implement these common sense solutions. Moreover, the Fairness Act for Pregnant Workers would ensure that pregnant black women can remain attached to the workforce guaranteeing them reasonable and medically necessary accommodation.
We call on Congress to pass these bills now. Because the annual loss of black women to the wage gap could have paid for eight months of family groceries, eight months of child care and eight months of rent during the pandemic.
Black women are the backbone of our economy. They support us – it’s time we started supporting them.
Today and every day, black women deserve so much more.
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