It’s Beyond Time Black Women Were Paid What They’re Owed

Over centuries, Black women’s paid and unpaid labor built our economy—holding our country up to this day. And yet, Black women are still not being paid what they’ve, for far too long, been owed. 

July 27 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Daymarking how far into this year Black women must work to be paid what white, non-Hispanic men were paid last year alone.    

The wage gap costs Black women $1,891 per month, $22,692 per year, and $907,680 over a 40-year career.  

What’s behind these staggering losses? Racism and sexism—which our institutions inflict on Black women at every turn, and in every sector, of our economy. 

Today, the National Women’s Law Center released a fact sheet analyzing why this gender and racial wage gap persists. Here’s some of what we found: 

1. Black women experience a wage gap compared to white, non-Hispanic men at every education level, even when they have earned a professional or graduate degree. 

 Many of us have been force fed the ideal of the “American dream.” This idea that if we work hard enough—and get enough education—we will earn more money, and therefore, succeed.  

Well, that’s absolute bullshit.  

Structural barriers, including racism and sexism, cannot be beaten by “hard work” or “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.” Just look at the data below: 

  • Black women working full time, year-round typically have to earn a master’s degree ($70,008) to make more than white, non-Hispanic men with just an associate’s degree ($61,719). 
  • Among doctorate degree holders, a Black woman working full time, year-round typically makes 65 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man working full time, year-round with the same education makes—an annual loss of $53,334, or more than $2.1 million over the course of a 40-year career. 

2. Black women face a wage gap in each of the ten occupations where they are most likely to work, many of which are low-paid. 

In the United States, Black women face occupational segregation and are overrepresented in low-paid jobs. And in every common occupation, whether low-paid or not, Black women face racist and sexist wage gaps compared to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts:   

  • Black women working full time, year-round as cashiers and retail salespeople (the second most common occupation for Black women) make just 55 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man working full time, year-round makes. 
  • For Black women, the highest paying occupations among the ten most common are (1) registered nurses, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses and (2) elementary and middle school teachers and teaching assistants—but Black women working full time, year-round in these roles are paid about 20% less than their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts working full time, year-round in these roles.   

In “Still I Rise,” Maya Angelou writes:  

Out of the huts of history’s shame 

I rise 

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain 
I rise 

She rises despite the pain, violence, and discrimination our country has inflicted on Black women for centuries. But what if, today and every day, our country—including everyone from business owners to lawmakers—were part of the tide that pushed Black women forward?  

It’s beyond time to pay Black women what they’re owed. And it’s about time for our nation to invest in Black women and for Congress to pass bills like the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Raise the Wage Act, and the Schedules That Work Act, which would strengthen our equal pay laws and help Black women build greater economic security.