Black women are graduating high school, attending college, participating in the labor force, and starting businesses at higher rates, but they still aren’t seeing the rewards of their hard work, according to a recent report from the Black Women’s Roundtable, the women’s initiative of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Young black women have increased their high school graduation rate by 63 percent over the past 50 years, more than tripling it and “virtually eliminating the gap with Asian women (down to 2%), and significantly narrowing the gap with white women (7%),” the report notes. That gap between the rates of black women and white women has shrunk from 22 percent in 1960. They’ve also decreased their dropout rates, particularly in recent years. In 2006, 12 percent of black women dropped out of high school, and that number has declined consistently since 2007, falling by more than 40 percent and reaching 6.4 percent in 2011.
After they leave high school, black women have begun to dominate college. “Though all women lead their male counterparts in college enrollment and degree attainment,” the report says, “Black women do so at higher rates than any other group of women in America.” In 2010, they were 66 percent of all blacks who finished a Bachelor’s Degree, 71 percent with a Master’s, and 65 percent with a Doctorate.
And they keep excelling after they graduate. “As they have from the beginning of their experience in America, Black women lead all women in labor force participation rates,” according to the report. Their labor force participation rate is higher than all other women, and that continues to be true even after they become mothers. They are also very entrepreneurial, starting businesses at six times the national average and representing the fastest growing segment of women-owned businesses. Black women own more than 1 million firms, employ 272,000 people other than themselves, and generate an estimated $44.9 billion in revenue.
But even as they’ve been working harder on their educations and starting more businesses, black women aren’t seeing higher returns. While women working full-time, on average, make 77 percent of what men make, black women make 64 percent of what white men make. In 2010, single black women’s median wealth, or income and assets minus obligations, was just $100, compared to single white women’s $41,500. Almost half had zero or negative wealth. Even though they participate in the workforce at elevated rates, they are stuck in low paying work — they “are more likely than any group in America to work for poverty-level wages, thereby making them the most likely of all Americans to be among the working poor,” the report notes. They also experience high unemployment rates, with a 9.9 percent rate compared to 5.1 percent for white women.
And while they are starting more businesses, they get less funding and make less money. “Race and gender bias intersect to limit access to traditional capital for Black women,” the report says. Black small business owners are being left out of small business loans in the aftermath of the recession and they are getting fewer federal contracts. Meanwhile, women-owned companies get a very small share of venture capital funding and investors are more likely to give money to men. They also trail other women in revenues, getting just 6 percent of all revenue generated by women-owned businesses. White women, on the other hand, net 29 percent.
These problems follow black women into their retirement years, when they have the lowest levels of household income for any demographic group over 65 and will experience poverty at a rate more than five times that experienced by white men — 16 percent versus 3 percent. This is all thanks to the fact that they have lower earnings and wealth throughout their lives, are less likely or able to put money away in retirement plans, and are overrepresented among those who go into their retirement years without a spouse and/or with a disability.