Black women’s ‘equal pay day’ reminds us how persistent the wage gap is

Black women receive 67 cents to a white man’s dollar.

CREDIT: iStockPhoto
CREDIT: iStockPhoto

Monday is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day that marks when black women are paid the same wages as their white male peers were paid last year. Black women are paid only 67 cents on the dollar relative to non-Hispanic white men, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.

Black women could lose $840,040 over a 40-year career compared to non-Hispanic white men, according to the National Women’s Law Center, and in some states, that wage gap could lead to a loss over $1 million.

According to EPI, the wage gap for black women has only grown worse and black women are working more hours. Looking at the lowest wage workers, the annual hours black women work grew 30.5 percent between 1979 and 2015 compared to a 3.2 percent increase for white men.

Several black female celebrities and politicians brought attention to the pay gap on Monday, including Serena Williams, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY).

“Black women are the cornerstone of our communities,” Williams tweeted.

The wage gap persists at all levels of education and in all occupations. Black women with advanced degrees still make $7 an hour less than white men who only have a bachelor’s degree and white male physicians and surgeons earn $18 per hour more than black female physicians and surgeons.

There are also significant state differences in the wage gap. Maine, Mississippi, Alabama, Nebraska, South Carolina, District of Columbia, Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Missouri all had earnings ratios between white men and black women ranging from 59.7 percent to 55.2 percent. But Louisiana paid black women the worst in comparison to white men, at 46 percent. Black women’s median annual earnings tended to be lowest in southern states.

A 2016 Institute for Women’s Policy Research report shows why racial and ethnic differences in the pay gap tell us much more than simply looking at the pay gap by gender. The report found that the median weekly earnings for black women were $641 across occupations compared to $815 for white women and $1,025 for white men. Black men and Hispanic men made less than white women, at $718 and $633 respectively. Asian men and women had the highest median weekly earnings.

It would take a very long time for black women to reach pay equity with white men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Black women would have to wait until 2124 for equal pay if wages continue to change at this slow pace. But policy experts do have suggestions for how to mitigate the wage gap.

Black women are subject to racial and gender biases in higher education, in the labor force, and in housing. Studies have found racial bias in how police use force on black men and women, and too often, police fail to help black women who are victims of crime. In a 96-page report released this year, “The Status of Black Women in the U.S.,” the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) recommended several approaches to improving the financial health and well being of black women. The recommendations included: pursuing criminal justice reform, expanding Medicaid, providing more support to and recruitment of black female political candidates, and raising the minimum wage. The EPI analysis of the wage gap recommends raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024.