Like the rest of the country, Black women have been hit hard by a devastating pandemic and economic crisis. Unique to Black women, however, is the demand to survive through these crises while living within the bounds of discrimination—based on both race and gender—that long has plagued America. This year, with the lowest-paid Black women in service occupations disproportionately losing their jobs due to the pandemic, the disparate impact of COVID-19 made the significance of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day even more stark.
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day marks the day on which the pay of the average Black woman in America will have caught up to the pay of the average white man during the previous year. In 2021, that day was August 3rd. I invite you to view and share this video of A Woman’s Worth: The State of Black Women in the Economy, a lively discussion I had with Demos Trustee Emeritus and best-selling author Heather McGhee on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.
Although Black women have made great strides in education and employment against the odds, this pay divide continues across industries today.
The fact that Black women make 63 cents compared to every dollar made by white men is a staggering inequity in pay that leads to extraordinary—and devastating—differences in wealth that multiply across generations. Although Black women have made great strides in education and employment against the odds, this pay divide continues across industries today. Among frontline workers—physicians and surgeons—white men are paid an average of $63 per hour while their Black women colleagues are paid an average of $47 per hour. Regardless of career, Black women face such entrenched institutional barriers to economic success that only Congress can knock them down.
Throughout the first half of this year, some action at the federal level has taken aim at inequity, which inevitably will benefit Black women. The Child Tax Credit, which will be a lifeline in the face of the increasing cost of raising a child in America, is projected to cut child poverty by more than 40 percent. Through a $39 billion investment in childcare, the Biden administration is working toward mitigating the effect of the pandemic on working parents. And the PRO Act, which the House passed in March, has the potential to safeguard union rights and empower millions of American workers.
This is a good start, but the fact is that any shot at long-term, meaningful progress hinges on the political courage of Congress. And when most members of Congress are wealthy, white, male, and accountable to their wealthy, white, male donors, the prospect of building transformative economic power—let alone political power—among Black women seems bleak.
In large part, the wage gap—like the parallel wealth gap—is the product of deliberately racist and sexist policy rooted in a fundamental belief that Black labor can be taken for granted.
[E]lected officials enacted policies that excluded Black women from competing and thriving in the job market.
After the end of chattel slavery, which made it impossible for Black women to earn money and build wealth, elected officials enacted policies that excluded Black women from competing and thriving in the job market. For example, Black agricultural and domestic workers—"essential workers” long before this pandemic—had no access to benefits, overtime, or collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. And before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black women had no means of seeking recourse for employment discrimination. The majority remained limited to low-wage, low-status jobs in agriculture and domestic service. In short, as Black women grew other people’s food and cleaned other people’s homes to make ends meet, they had no access to the pensions, health insurance, and other benefits that made it possible for white families to build economic stability.
Policy choices—from our nation’s refusal to support working mothers by passing paid family leave and paid sick leave to its failure to establish public banks that can give more Black entrepreneurs access to capital—fuel the status quo. Changing it requires changing how Americans think about the institutions and economic forces that shape all of our lives.
A commitment to paying Black women what we’re worth isn’t just about money. It’s about making sure we—and our communities—have a seat at the table