Prominent Black women leaders gathered this week to discuss the persistent issue of the gender and race wage gap for women of color. This year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is on July 27, 2023.
Studies from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) indicate that Black women who work full time, year round currently make “67 cents for every dollar” made by white men and “93 cents for every dollar” paid to Black men.
This pay disparity is mirrored locally in New York City. Last year, a pay equity report put out by the city council, showed that over half of the city’s workforce consists of women and most of them are Black and brown women. In the city’s “non-adjusted pay gap,” which compares the average median salaries across different categories, Black women earn “71 cents to every dollar” white employees make.
“It is not a holiday or celebration. It is a reminder of how far Black women have to go into the new year in order to simply catch up to what white men earned in the previous year,” said National Partnership for Women & Families President Jocelyn Frye on the conference call. “We have to start with an understanding that racism and sexism continue to define and devalue the work that women do, particularly the work that Black women do.”
Frye attributes the pay gap to occupational segregation, the over- or under-representation of certain demographics in a particular job, caregiver discrimination, and sexual harassment in the workplace.
“We find ourselves in the midst of an earthquake and Black women are at the fault line,” said Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO for National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Campbell and others advocated for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill aimed at addressing wage discrimination, in Congress and other pay parity laws that promote transparency. New York City Council passed the Pay Equity Law in 2019, which demands more data on pay gaps and analyses hiring practices. In 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul passed a Pay Transparency Law in New York State that requires jobs to list salary ranges.
Cassandra Welchlin, executive director at Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, pointed out that even employers asking for salary history in interviews can lead to discriminatory treatment.
“We know that salary history is one of the tenants that continue to make the wage gap wider because we’re not paid what we ought to be,” said Welchlin.
Along with salary history, said Welchlin, salary negotiations are tricky for Black women regardless of education level. Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice for NWLC Emily Martin confirmed that despite the “rapid increase” of Black women with degrees in the past few decades, many are typically still paid less than white men with the same level of education and they are paid less than white men with less education than them.
“You can’t just educate yourself out of the wage gap,” said Martin.
Martin added that one driver behind the wage gap is that the lion’s share of women and Black women are working in the lowest paying jobs nationwide. They are child care workers, home health aides and personal care aides, food service workers, and other “underpaid and undervalued jobs,” according to the NWLC.
Some believe strongly that funneling more Black women into union jobs will help counteract the wage gap.
Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) President Elise Bryant said that Black women in unions unequivocally make more money and have better access to benefits, though she does acknowledge that unions have their own history with being racist and sexist as well. She worries that policies meant to close the pay gap aren’t always enforced and laws are often circumvented. Bryant remembers the indignation from friends who attended Ivy League schools and became lawyers at separate places, and then discovered through slip ups at work that they were being paid less than their white counterparts.
“Sexism. It is manifested all over the place, across the board, across financial and social status,” said Bryant, “but those of us who are in the most disenfranchised and lowest paying jobs, the ones without benefits, are the women of color, specifically African American women.”
In addition to more union jobs, Bryant said higher minimum wages , vocational training and negotiation skills for high school girls would also help to close the wage gap for Black women.
George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, had a similar standpoint. He said that New York should make it easier for workers to exercise their rights to form and join unions to advance pay equity.
“Closing racial and gender pay gaps requires building a mass movement of working people to build power and advance collective bargaining,” said Gresham. “Black women who belong to unions earn nearly a quarter more than they do in non-union settings and experience dramatically reduced pay disparities, a result of negotiated standards and wage transparency.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.