OPINION: Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2021: We Demand Our Whole Dollar
Today (August 3) is Black Women’s Equal Pay, which is a day that highlights the financial disparities that Black women experience that can result in a multitude of unintended consequences. The Black women wage gap is a threat to the economy, the Black family, and society as a whole. Therefore, continued awareness and our collective activism is needed in this moment to demand that Black women are paid.
Earlier this year, Vice-President Kamala Harris stated, “The burden of ensuring equal pay isn't on women alone. It's on all of us. And equal pay will benefit all of us, too. Because when we lift up women, we lift up families, we lift up communities, and all of society is better off”.
Black women dwell at the intersection of racism and sexism, all while attempting to dismantle white supremacy. Additionally, Black women experience occupational segregation and are funneled into jobs based on gender norms. Implicit and explicit bias is also causal evidence as to why Black women assume roles that are not always as lucrative as the employment opportunities of their white counterparts.
According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, if Black women were paid what we were owed, through the course of our lifetimes, we would be able to afford:
- 2.5 years of childcare
- 156 more weeks of food
- 22 more months of rent
We all know that Black women are the backbone of this country and continue to show up when this nation needs us the most, yet we continue to face tremendous discrimination in our daily lives. Now, more than ever, we need our elected leaders to support Black women by helping to close the wage gap. This fight will require Black women and their allies to advocate for increased intentionality from employers and transformational policy change on the local and federal levels to shrink the gap.
The disparities in pay are evident as working women only earn 82 cents for every dollar that white men earn, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Black women specifically only earn 63 cents for every dollar that white men are paid. On average, it takes Black women 19 months to obtain the same amount of money that their white male counterparts earn in one year.
In 2015, it was reported that the median wealth for single Black single women is only $200, compared to $15,640 for single white women and $28,900 for single white men. Gender-based pay has been illegal since 1963 but has thrived in workplaces that deter its employees from discussing their wages.
In the workforce, Black women are often pushed out due to their unpaid obligations such as caregiving. Paid medical leave is often an incentive for women to return to work. Still, it was reported in 2019 that only 19 percent of employers offered paid family leave, and only 40 percent offered short-term disability. The unpaid obligations Black women carry can result in fewer hours worked. In some cases, they may only work part-time, which results in lower pay than their counterparts. Congruently, Black mothers only earn 50 cents for every dollar that a white man earns.
Shirley Chisholm once said, “Legal discrimination between the sexes is, in almost every instance, founded on outmoded views of society and the pre-scientific beliefs about psychology and physiology. It is time to sweep away these relics of the past and set further generations free of them”.
This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day feels uniquely urgent because COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black women. Black women generally have fewer resources to withstand the hardships associated with the pandemic, and more than 1 in 3 Black women are essential workers, and many have lost their jobs. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as a “SHE” cession.
Additionally, Black women have also struggled during the pandemic to meet their basic needs, such as paying rent and paying for childcare. The reality is that without intervention, Black women may not reach the economic parity of white men until the year 2130. Black women deserve better than this and cannot afford to wait for another hundred years for equality. Black women need bold and immediate action to help them recover from the pandemic and reenter the workforce.
Among legislative actions addressing fair pay are the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and The Paycheck Fairness Act, which just passed the House of Representatives this April – both are still being considered in the U.S. Senate. In addition, states such as California and New York have been moving towards more transparency of pay in the workplace. This is why it is more important than ever that we actively hold our elected officials accountable to reach pay equity for all women.
Black women have remained resilient despite the adversities that we have faced. It is time for the nation to hold us up and pay us our whole dollar because when Black women thrive, it leads to a ripple effect that impacts the entire country.
Glynda C. Carr is the President and CEO of Higher Heights for America, the only national organization providing Black women with a political home exclusively dedicated to harnessing their power to expand Black women’s elected representation and voting participation and advance progressive policies. Follow her on Twitter @glyndacarr.