4 Reasons Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Is About Much More Than Money

Supermajority Education Fund

August 13, 2020

Today is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which marks the point in the year the average Black woman in America earns much as the average white man did the year before. This staggering pay disparity means that it takes Black women nearly three quarters of a year to catch up to white men in earnings. 

“Because these amounts add up, unequal pay means more than Black women having less money in their pocket right now,” writes Jasmine Tucker in a new report from the National Women’s Law Center. “It also means they miss key opportunities throughout their lifetimes to build wealth and future economic security for themselves and their families.”

Here are just a few ways this wage gap has far-reaching consequences into many aspects of Black women’s lives. 

Though their jobs have been deemed “essential,” Black women frontline workers are struggling. More than a third of American women are currently working in jobs at the frontline of the pandemic, and for Black women that number is even larger. The Washington Post reports that Black women make up 11% of frontline workers but only 6.3% of the workforce overall. This sector is primarily made up of jobs like grocery store workers, home health aides, nurses, and warehouse workers.

But while their jobs have been deemed vital to the American economy, the wages these women workers receive don’t reflect that. A recent JobList analysis found that the average woman working in an essential industry currently earns an average of $41,174 annually, which is almost $12,700 less than a male frontline worker. And, of course, these women are putting their health at risk while performing their jobs amid a pandemic.

On the other hand, a report from the Economic Policy Institute found that both Black and Hispanic women are experiencing higher rates of unemployment than other groups since the pandemic began. 

“In many ways, this epidemic has shone a light on the cracks in the system that have been there a long time,” Anastasia Christman, the Worker Power Program Director at the National Employment Law Project, told Supermajority News in May

Lower wages also affect the way Black women interact with the healthcare system. Black women in the U.S. are disproportionately likely to be employed hourly and are less likely to have retirement and healthcare benefits than other workers. The Harvard Business Review notes that “[e]mployers with more low wage workers tend to have higher family premiums and higher deductibles.” Those high costs also often mean employees who are eligible for benefits are more likely to decline coverage, leading them to either be un- or underinsured and unprepared if they face a medical emergency.

This lack of healthcare access is particularly acute for Black pregnant people. The United States currently has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world, with 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The numbers are even starker when broken down demographically; Black American women are three times more likely to die during or in the weeks after childbirth than white women.

Compared to white women, Black women are more likely to be uninsured, face greater financial barriers to care when they need it and are less likely to access prenatal care,” the National Partnership For Women and Families (NPWF) notes. In order to address the lack of access to care, NPWF says that policymakers need to work to ensure that Black women have “access to quality care, addresses social determinants of health and provides greater economic security.”

This loss of income due to the wage gap leads to many Black women being unprepared for retirement. A May study from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) found that retired Black Americans were more likely to be poor. A 2013 study on race and retirement from NIRS found that the “average retirement savings balance among households of color ($30,000) is one-fourth that of white households ($120,000).”

Because women of color make less than the population at large, “that inequity would continue down the line,” said Zach Moller, an economist at the think tank Third Way. But Moller stressed that there were ways to address those gaps. Social Security is the first bedrock of retirement savings, especially for working-class and middle-class Americans,” Moller said. Strengthening Social Security and continuing to ensure that Black American women can access those benefits as they get older is essential to improving their health and wellbeing.