August 13th is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day—marking the day Black women had to work into 2020 in order to match what white, non-Hispanic men made in 2019 alone. The gender wage gap is a widespread issue, but it’s crucial to recognize that unequal pay for Black women stems from a multi-layered burden of systemic racism and sexism—especially amidst the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis that is affecting Black communities disproportionately.
Black women experience a wage gap due to racism and sexism across occupations, education levels, and income levels, but overall pay disparities are magnified by the fact that Black women are over-represented in low-wage essential occupations such as retail, food service, and domestic work. Black women in the United States who work full time, year-round are typically paid just 62 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men—compared to 82 cents for women overall. For Black mothers, this gap is even more dismal: they earn just 50 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic father makes. About 80 percent of Black mothers are the primary breadwinner for their families, and the wage gap means they have less money to support themselves and their families during these unprecedented times. According to an alarming new study, 48% of Black women do not currently have enough money to pay for their basic needs like food and housing.
For Black women who are pregnant, there is an added layer of precarity. Pregnant workers in low wage jobs are routinely pushed off the job when they request modest, medically-necessary accommodations like light duty, telework, or protective equipment—making pregnancy discrimination a key contributor to the gender and racial wage gap. We must pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, to ensure workers have a right to the reasonable accommodations they need for their health. This is particularly important because Black women are also experiencing another public health crisis in our country of shameful racial disparities in maternal and infant health and mortality. The solutions to this vast problem are multifaceted and stronger pregnancy and breastfeeding protections in the workforce have an important role to play.
In order to put a stop to unequal pay for Black women, we must also pass laws like paid leave for all, affordable childcare, and flexible scheduling—to ensure they can protect their health and economic security while caring for their families. Enacting these changes in our workplaces are critical steps towards addressing the longstanding structural inequalities that imperil Black women’s lives and livelihoods.