It takes us this long to get to Black Women’s Equal Pay Day because Black women make just 63 cents for every dollar paid to white men, a gross disparity that will cost the average Black woman more than $24,000 a year and more than $960,000 in her lifetime. It’s a disparity that isn’t going away anytime soon: At the rate this pay gap has closed over the past 30 years, Black women won’t be getting equal pay until the year 2130.
”It also has ripple effects that mean Black women miss key opportunities throughout their lifetimes to build wealth and future economic security for themselves and their families,” the National Women’s Law Center’s Jasmine Tucker reports. “The wage gap means many cannot save enough to afford a down payment on a home, cannot afford to pay for their own or a child’s higher education, cannot start a business or save for retirement. It is no surprise, then, that white families have eight times the wealth of Black families or that single Black women own $200 in wealth for every $28,900 single white men own.”
During the pandemic, Black women have been hit especially hard by unemployment. “Nearly one in five Black women (18.3%) lost their jobs between February 2020 and April 2020, compared with 13.2% of white men,” the Economic Policy Institute’s Valerie Wilson writes. “As of June 2021, Black women’s employment was still 5.1 percentage points below February 2020 levels, while white men were down 3.7 percentage points.”
At the same time, Black women in jobs critically important to getting the nation through the pandemic have continued to be paid less than their white male counterparts, from physicians to nurses to teachers to cashiers. Companies can make a difference to the Black women who work for them by prioritizing equity. Unions help close pay gaps for their members. Every data point we have shows that the pay gap is structural, and that means it requires government action to correct on a meaningful scale.
Even if pay inequality were magically eradicated, Black people would still face systemic effects of the wealth inequality that’s been developed over generations of racist policy. But it would be a start.
Tucker offers a list of policies that would help close the gap: “support policies that expand and strengthen federal and state unemployment insurance programs; expand access to comprehensive health coverage, including reproductive care; bolster equal pay laws; increase the wages of women in low-paid jobs by raising the minimum wage; protect workers’ ability to join unions and collectively bargain; expand the availability of high-quality, affordable child care; and provide paid family and medical leave.” These moves would help a great many workers beyond Black women, of course, but eliminating avenues for employers to exploit and oppress workers especially helps the workers who are now most often exploited and oppressed.