Last week marked Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day the average Black woman in the US finally—after nine extra months of work—made what their white male counterparts did in 2021. It’s important to note that in 2021, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was recognized on August 3, but in 2022 it’s been pushed back by nearly two months. That means the pay gap is widening – fast. September 21 was not a day to celebrate, but a stark reminder of the gross inequities that Black women continue to face and is a wakeup call for us all.
This loss of pay is charted by HerMoney.com, who reported that in 2020, Black women made 63 percent of what white, non-Hispanic men made. However, the pandemic caused full-time Black women workers’ median wage to be reduced to 58 cents in 2021, according to ACS Census data. This widening gap is similar to the levels of the 1960’s and is even more shocking compared to the 83 cents gap of women of all races, reported by The American Association of University Women. Factoring in all races moved Equal Pay Day for the rest of us to March 15 this year, which means that Black women had seven more months to earn the same pay as non-black women in this country where all people are supposed to be equal.
Overall, Black workers have always faced discrimination in the workforce, and Black women are especially vulnerable as they face the double jeopardy of not only being Black, but also being female. That discrimination costs them too, as much as $1,891 per month, $22,692 per year and a staggering loss of $907,680 over a 40-year career, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This means that a Black woman has to work until she’s 80 years old to make what a white man makes by the time he reaches 60. The wage gap starts with girls as young as 16 and worsens as Black women progress through their education and careers. Even though Black women enroll in college at higher rates than men, Black women who have bachelor’s degrees still earn 36% less than white men with bachelor’s degrees on average.
Part of the current disparity can be traced to the pandemic. COVID-19 dramatically shifted the labor market and hit women of color the hardest. Millions of women were forced out of the workforce due to layoffs and increased caregiving demands, with women of color suffering the greatest economic losses, to the tune of 1.4 million jobs, largely in industries in which Black women are overrepresented such as services and hospitality,according to a separate report from the NWLC. The report further states that unequal pay has left Black women less able than their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts to successfully weather the economic fallout of the pandemic. And data shows that economic gains in recent months have not been experienced evenly across groups by race and gender. For example, the unemployment rate for Black women was double digits for 6 months in 2020—including a peak of 16.6% in May 2020—before finally declining. That means Black women have been yet again excluded from full economic recovery, and the unemployment levels they have been facing would be labeled recessionary if they were applied to all workers.
While COVID-19 brought some of the racial and gender issues that Black women face to light, it’s important to remember that these are not new problems. Black women have been working twice as hard for half as much long before COVID-19, the pandemic simply added another layer to the inequities they’ve long faced.
Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told ABC News that the solution for closing the gender pay gap for Black women needs to come from both the government and private sectors. “On the federal level, Mason said the passage of legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act can help promote pay equity and transparency, while enforcement of existing civil rights and equal employment laws can help lower workplace discrimination.”
Black women are in crisis, and the growing pay gap must be reversed. We need to work together to address the disparities and close the pay gap for Black women, while creating a system that supports all women the same way it supports and protects our male counterparts. We need to make sure that women across the board are recognized for their skills and talents and actually get paid fairly for the work they do. Equal pay for all (women and men) needs to be a top priority, and this year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is a resounding wakeup call – reminding us to take action. We need to take steps to make change for everyone, point out the injustices, and do what we can (all races and genders) personally and politically to make sure that Black women get the equal pay they deserve.