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Black Women & the Pay Gap

Imagine being paid over 1/3 less than white men for doing the same work.

If you’re a Black woman in the United States, that’s a likely reality.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, on average, Black women were paid 64% of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2021. Like Latinas and Native women, Black women experience a substantially wider pay gap than all women due to the compounded effect of racism and sexism.

The 64% statistic compares all Black women who took home earnings in 2021, including seasonal and part-time workers, to all white men workers. Previous pay gap calculations used data drawn only from full-time, year-round workers—which would be 67% for Black women working full-time, year-round in 2021. However, Ƶ and other equity organizations recently adopted a more inclusive methodology to better understand how the gender pay gap impacts diverse communities. During the pandemic, millions of women were forced out of the workforce due to layoffs and increased caregiving demands, with many women of color sustaining the greatest economic losses.

The Simple Truth, 2021 supplement

System Racism and the Pay Gap

Research from the American Association of University Women examines how systemic racism—including decades of discriminatory employment practices, intentionally inadequate legal protections and persistent racial stereotypes—has contributed to a pay gap that remains far wider for women of color than for white women.

These factors are behind the gender pay gap that Black women encounter:

Intersecting injustice

Black women and girls live at the intersection of sexism and racism. While sexism and racism are distinct forms of discrimination that manifest differently, their effects are compounded when a person experiences both at the same time. Intersectional discrimination perpetuates the racial and gender wealth gaps, limits Black women’s access to educational opportunities, and impedes their career advancement.

The wealth gap

In 2019, the median wealth of Black households in the United States (without defined-benefit pensions) was $24,100, compared with $189,100 for white households. Therefore, the typical Black household had 12.7% of the wealth of the typical white household, and they owned $165,000 less in wealth.

The wealth gap that Black families experience can be traced to historic injustices such as slavery, segregation, redlining (the practice of differentiating areas of a city or town by race, often leading to the denial of necessary goods and services to people who live in those areas), unequal access to government programs like welfare and the G.I. Bill and ongoing institutionalized and systemic discrimination. This disparity in wealth spans generations and perpetuates unequal pay and diminished opportunities, decreasing the amount of resources that Black families can devote to education and career advancement.

Education

While education is often thought of as a great equalizer, it does not shield women of color from the pay gap or the wealth gap. Ƶ research released in 2022 found that white women in New York City who attend college are much more likely to receive financial help from family than Black women who attend college, either in the form of a gift or a loan.

Moreover, Black women are far more likely to pay for school with federal student loans than white women (41% vs. 28%, respectively). After graduation, the combined effect of the gender wage gap and the racial wealth gap make it harder for Black women to repay their loans, intensifying the strain on their economic security as they enter their careers. Clearly, relying on education alone is not enough to close the pay gap for Black women.

Occupational segregation

Black women are to work in lower-paying service occupations (like food service, domestic work and health care assistance) than any other industry and less likely to work in the higher-paying engineering and tech fields or managerial positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the percentage of Black women who are full-time minimum-wage workers is than that of any other racial group.

To make matters worse, there’s an even bigger pay gap in the service industry, where women make less per week than women working full-time across all occupations. That’s why a livable minimum wage is crucial to all women (who make up of tipped workers), and especially Black women.

In addition to being overrepresented in low-paying occupations, Black women are underrepresented at the top. Black women make up just 1% of the high-paying engineering workforce and 3% of computing. Among the few Black women who do break into these careers, discriminatory practices drive many out.

Why Equal Pay Matters

The pay and wealth disparities that Black women face affect not only individuals, but also the people around them. Since more than 80% of Black mothers are the sole breadwinner, co-breadwinners or primary breadwinner for their households, a fair salary can mean the difference between struggling and sustainability for a family.

Paying all workers fairly means more women can support their families while also contributing to the overall economy. True pay equity requires a multifaceted strategy that addresses both the gendered and racialized injustices that Black women encounter every day.

As a first step, take action for Black women today by telling Congress it’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

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