/ 02.10.20 /

Black History Month: How the gender-based pay gap affects black women

February is Black History Month, and here in 2020, there’s much to celebrate. In the 116th Congress of the United States — the most racially and ethnically diverse ever — 12 percent of the House of Representatives are black, about equal to the share of Americans who are black. In the business world, more people of color, especially women, are taking leadership roles, as companies increasingly understand that a diverse workforce is essential to success.

Yet the wage gap between black women and white men doesn’t reflect this forward progress. Nationally, black women working full-time earn 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men, compared to 80 cents for women in general. The gap is even wider in certain parts of the country: compared to every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic males, black women earn 48 cents in Louisiana and 55 cents in Mississippi and New Jersey. The difference adds up to lost income of $946,120 over the course of a woman of color’s 40-year career.

According to a study by the National Women’s Law Center, black women account for 18 percent of women earning $11 or less per hour, even though they make up 13 percent of the workforce. Twenty-eight percent of black women earn their income working service sector jobs such as nannies, housekeepers, and home health aides, which, in addition to having the lowest wages, often don’t offer protections such as paid sick days or family leave. As a result, these women stay in “subsistence” mode and aren’t able to access opportunities for education and advancement that would lead to higher income and economic independence.

The causes for this are hard-wired into our society and greatly limit opportunities for black women: discrimination based on race and gender, sexual harassment in the workplace, job segregation, and a lack of policies to support family caregivers. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this wage gap will continue until 2059 if nothing is done to correct it.

Fortunately, the conversation is growing louder, as more and more companies gain awareness and make a commitment to investing in all women, especially underserved groups such as black women. When it comes to helping women close the race- and gender-based wage gap and achieve economic independence, we can do more together than on our own.

Be part of our community and help more women get into the workforce and economic independence.