It’s Time to Pay Black Women What They’re Owed

For centuries, Black women’s labor has been essential to the creation, growth, and functioning of this nation and its economy. Yet Black women still aren’t being paid what they are owed.   

September 21 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Daymarking how far into this year Black women must work to catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men made last year alone.   

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

That gap stems in large part from the fact that Black women are overrepresented in low-paid jobs and face both race and sex discrimination at work. They are also often both primary caregivers and breadwinners—but outdated, sexist workplace policies too often force Black women to choose between bringing home a paycheck and caring for themselves and their families. 

COVID-19 has only contributed further to these inequities: Many Black women lost their jobs, were forced into part-time work, or were pushed out of the labor force altogether.    

That’s why, earlier this year, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) polled Black women across the country to understand how they’ve really been faring in the pandemic. Here’s what we found

  • Nearly one in five (19%) Black women report they lost or quit a job during the pandemic, more than three in 10 (31%) report that they or their employer reduced their hours, and almost one in four (23%) say they changed jobs during the pandemic  
  • Over four in 10 Black women (42%) make $15 per hour or less, compared to just 13% of white men 
  • More than one in four Black women (27%) report that their current or most recent job doesn’t provide any key benefits—i.e., no health insurance, retirement benefits, paid sick days, paid family or medical leave, or paid vacation time   
  • More than one in four Black women (28%) say their financial situation is worse now than before the pandemic began 
  • Over half of Black women (51%) report that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health—but most Black women who report a negative mental health impact (73%) did not seek treatment from a mental health professional, which may be driven in part by the discrimination that Black women have faced in the health care system, including the tendency for their concerns not to be taken seriously by health care professionals, along with access and affordability barriers  

These inequities, a product of America’s entrenched white supremacist systems, cannot be solved overnight. But from our survey, we at least have a place to start.  

An overwhelming majority of Black women (around 80% or more!) expressed support for the following policies, and many others: 

  • Gradually raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour, then automatically increase it to keep pace with rising wages  
  • Provide access to comprehensive health care with no cost-sharing  
  • Increase the wage that employers are required to pay tipped workers, so that tipped workers are entitled to the same minimum wage as anyone else, before tips 
  • Grant employees the right to request a work schedule change without fear of retaliation, and require employers to provide at least two weeks’ notice of work schedules for people in jobs with variable hours 
  • Protect employees’ right to discuss salaries with colleagues, so employees can find out if they are being paid unfairly compared to their coworkers 

Federal bills like the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Raise the Wage Act, the Schedules That Work Act, and more would implement these commonsense solutions. Furthermore, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would ensure Black women who are pregnant can stay attached to the workforce by guaranteeing them reasonable, medically necessary accommodations. 

We are calling on Congress to pass these bills now. Because Black women’s annual loss to the wage gap could have paid for eight months of a family’s groceries, eight months of child care, and eight months of rent during the pandemic.   

Black women are the backbone of our economy. They support us—it’s about time we start supporting them.  

Today and every day, Black women deserve so much more.