Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Is a Sobering Reminder

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Is a Sobering Reminder

‘Equal Pay Day,” a symbolic event to raise awareness of the gender pay gap, marks how far into the year the average American woman has to work to make up the gap with what her typical male colleague earned in the previous year. This year, Equal Pay Day was observed on April 12, but for black women, the pay gap is much worse; they didn’t get their Equal Pay Day until this Tuesday, Catherine Pearson reports at the Huffington Post:

August 23, 2016 is African American Women’s Equal Pay Day ― the day when black women finally catch up to white men’s pay from the last year. It’s a staggering fact. On average, black women in this country must work almost eight more months to simply earn what white man earned by last December 31st. Black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar white men earn. For white women, it’s 78 cents. …

The pay gap costs black women $877,480 over their careers. According to a recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) a black woman starting her career today (and working full-time, year round) will lose an average of $877,480 over her 40-year career, relative to a white man. In six states (New Jersey, Louisiana, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Washington D.C.) black women stand to lose more than $1 million over the course of their careers.

That means a typical black woman has to work more than 66 years to earn what a white man does in 40. The pay gap for black women is partly a result of their being concentrated in low-paying occupations, and partly to their being even more likely than white women to have to balance work and family caregiving obligations, forcing them to work shorter hours. Even so, Pearson points out, much of the gap remains unexplained by such “structural” factors, suggesting that black women are indeed discriminated against in pay.

Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-author of a new report on black women in the US economy, explains to the Christian Science Monitor’s Gretel Kauffman that for black women, the gap isn’t just about making less money:

Ms. Frye attributes the large disparity in pay to two primary factors. For one, women, particularly African-American women and Latinas, are disproportionately concentrated in minimum wage jobs, she tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. Nearly half of low-wage female workers are women of color, with 27.7 percent of African-American women working in service occupations.

The other main cause, Frye and other experts say, has less to do with the wages themselves and more to do with the workplace protections women of color have access to – or rather, don’t have access to. For example, African-American women, when compared with white women, are less likely to have access to flexible work days, flexible work hours, and paid sick time. The lack of flexibility and other workplace protections can be especially problematic for black mothers, more than half of whom are the breadwinners for their families.

In an op-ed at US News and World Report, Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president for program at the National Women’s Law Center, calls on policymakers to do more to help black women close this gap:

They can start by raising wages. Black women disproportionately earn the minimum wage and are overrepresented in the low-wage workforce. Yet, Congress has not acted to raise the federal minimum wage in nearly a decade. States are leading the way, with 17 states and the District of Columbia hiking the minimum wage since 2014. This year, California and New York became the first to raise the wage to $15 statewide, and the minimum wage will also climb to $15 in cities like D.C. and Seattle.

Lawmakers also can adopt policies that address the factors that lead to lower pay for black women in the same workplace by making pay practices more transparent and increasing penalties for employers that discriminate in pay. A growing number of states have updated their equal pay laws in the past two years. What’s more, employers are joining this effort, with 28 major employers signing, and more expected to sign, a White House pledge to close the wage gap in their own workplaces.