67 cents for every dollar a white man made. That’s what working Black women earned in 2022 — a wage gap that persists despite Equal Pay Day being acknowledged since 1996.
The wage gap starts from the time women enter the workforce and follows them into retirement. And for Black women — who exist at the intersection of racism and sexism — better and equal pay is essential for closing the racial wealth gap.
Closing the gender wage gap is “critically important because it’s an issue that impacts women across all sectors and racial and ethnic lines,” says Gloria L. Blackwell, president of the American Association of University Women.
When we look at Black, Latino, and Indigenous women’s pay, they are even further from parity. Women working part-time or living in Southern states make even less. Meanwhile, white women, Asian American women, and men generally, still earn significantly more.
The wage gap “really determines the pathway of women from the moment they enter the workforce, including when they start as teenagers,” Blackwell says.
Indeed, experts like Blackwell say advocacy, pay negotiation, and a shift in how society and businesses view women may move them closer to parity.
“Graduating Into a Pay Gap”
A report from the Pew Research Center found that Black women make 70% of the hourly earnings of white men. Twenty years ago, in 2002, it was 65%. Twenty years before that, in 1982, Black women made 59% of what white men made.
Women are ahead when it comes to educational pursuits and attainment. But education does not guarantee jobs, a long career, or high pay.
“Over the course of a 40-year career, a Black woman starting out today stands to lose close to $1 million if we don’t close the gap,” says Emily Martin, vice president for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center.
She says this life-changing money would enable Black women to pursue more educational opportunities, real estate investments, and make retirement attainable.
Advocates for women and their families attribute the pay gap for Black women to occupational segregation and discrimination that devalues their participation in the workforce. They’re also more likely to work in jobs that have low wages and fewer benefits, says Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
The “Motherhood Penalty” and “Fatherhood Premium”
Women 25 to 34 earned 92 cents for every dollar men around the same age earned. Between the ages of 35 to 54, they make about 83 cents per dollar.
Age, marriage, long-term partnerships, or children are not entirely to blame — it’s usually a mix of factors. Despite this, children are a unique trigger that causes a decline in their earnings. Blackwell calls this the “motherhood penalty.”
Conversely, men see their pay increase after becoming fathers, known as the “fatherhood wage premium.” A term coined by Rebecca Glauber, associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.
“Women take a hit when they become moms, but dads don’t,” Blackwell says. “Men don’t suffer the same fate. It is the factors around bias, stereotypes, discrimination, and societal norms. The way moms are viewed versus dads.”
Black women are more likely than any other ethnic group to be the primary or sole earner in their marriages. They are also more likely to be in egalitarian marriages where each person makes about the same.
“We know that losses and the wage gap have practical implications, particularly for Black women who are disproportionately breadwinners,” Fry says. “So when they lose income, it not only affects them, but it affects their families.”
What it Takes to Close the Gap
It’s been a 60-year fight for fair and equal pay. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act. The law that makes it illegal for employers to engage in pay discrimination based on sex.
“This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington,” says Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “These milestones signify the ongoing struggle for Black women at the intersection of race and gender.”
Earlier this year, Congress introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill addressing pay discrimination based on pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.
Supporters of women’s equal pay want to see more accountability from employers, who are often responsible for the state of women’s wages. They also want paid family and medical leave and more data collection around pay.
Investing in Black women entrepreneurs and their businesses is another way to support Black women, their families, and their communities.
Blackwell says employers can and should create more inclusive hiring policies and ensure mentorship, sponsorship, and professional development opportunities for women of color.
She says, “Black women bring so much to the table, and they need to be acknowledged for that.”
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