Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is the date black women must labor to catch up to what their white male colleagues earned the previous year. Black women earn barely 66 cents for every dollar a white man earns. That means that, on average, black women must labor until this time of year—nearly halfway through the next year—to earn the same as a white man did the previous year.
This pay disparity is even more pronounced for black women, who are also working-class and face additional financial burdens due to fewer opportunities for high-paying jobs and a propensity to live in areas with higher living costs. For far too long, we’ve heard that we need to lean in and trust that if we work hard, we’ll be rewarded.
But it’s not enough to lean in if you can’t afford childcare, if you can’t afford a taxi home after an all-night meeting, or if you can’t risk taking unpaid leave to pursue your dreams again and again because you will fall out of the middle class. That’s why now is the time to talk about pay equity and what it will take for all women—including black women—to see fair wages and opportunities at work.
Equal Pay is a Black Women’s Issue too.
A woman’s issue is a black woman’s issue. Historically, Black women have had to work extra hard just to keep their heads above water with laborious work, all while being at the forefront of pioneering change.
We’ve had to work harder, be more intelligent, and do more to be recognized as the full and equal members of our society that we deserve to be. And today, when we look at the pay gap, we see the same dynamic playing out.
Black Women Are Universally Disadvantaged When It Comes to Equal Pay
Over the years, many factors have contributed to the wage gap. It is indisputable that workplace discrimination against black women and other women of color is based on race and gender. We see that the wage gap widens for black women and at the same time, employers discriminate based on race and gender.
Black women are less likely to be hired than white women. Black women are less likely to be promoted and less likely to be paid equally for their work. At every stage in her career, a Black woman is less likely to be hired than a White woman with the same qualifications.
Hence, employers prefer White job applicants twice more than black applicants with equal qualifications.
The Wage Gap Widens for Black Women
Because the wage gap widens as Black women advance in their careers, they are at a greater risk of being paid poverty wages. Black women are less likely to be in managerial positions, the highest-paid positions in a company.
Additionally, Black women are more likely to be in low-wage jobs like child care, food service, and cleaning. At the same time, Latinas are often given less than the minimum wage for their work.
Addressing Pay Disparities Will Take More Than Just Paying Women Equally
While fairer pay is a crucial first step, we also need to address the structural barriers that are preventing black women from accessing high-wage careers in the first place.
One of the main barriers to fair pay and opportunities is the lack of affordable child care options that enable black women to participate fully in the workforce.
Childcare costs for families in some states amount to almost a quarter of a worker’s salary. In some states, like Washington, childcare is more expensive than a year of college.
Equal Pay Day Shouldn’t Just Be About Celebrations; It Should Also Be About Change.
For years, Black women have been compelled to celebrate their hard work on the day that signifies how far into the year they must work to close the gap to what white men made the former year. We’re not looking for a party. We are requesting our proper salaries and promotions.
We request equitable opportunity and a level playing field that is not already stacked against us. And we are asking our employers and elected officials to play a role in changing the culture that has allowed this discrepancy to exist.
The first step is to listen to Black women’s voices.
There Are Steps We Can Take to Close the Wage Gap for Black Women and All Women
There are steps we can take to close the wage gap. We can pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen protections against discrimination based on race and gender in workers’ wages. We can ensure workers have access to the tools they need to negotiate for fair pay.
We can also support union members and encourage more women to join unions. We can encourage employers to hire more women of color, especially Black women. We can invest in programs that help women enter and stay in the workforce.
And we can ensure that our elected officials are passing policies that support women financially, like paid family and medical leave, affordable child care, fair scheduling practices, and paid sick leave.
The bottom line is that the wage gap is real and has significant consequences for women, their families, and their communities. The wage gap means that women, the primary breadwinners in 40% of families, have less money to put food on the table and pay the bills.
And when women are underpaid, their families don’t just suffer—communities also suffer. The pay gap is an issue for all women, including black women. While there are challenges ahead, we know we are strong, resilient, and deserve better. And we know that when we come together and fight for what we deserve, we win.