Black Women’s Equal Pay Day hits a little differently in the middle of a pandemic. More than simply acknowledging the wage disparity between Black women and non-Hispanic white men, Equal Pay Day needs to consider the full impact of Black women’s economic conditions.
In March, the National Partnership found that pay for Black women in the 25 states (including the District of Columbia) with the largest share of Black women working full-time varied from 48 cents to 68 cents for every dollar earned by non-Hispanic white men. The median annual difference in wages between Black women and non-Hispanic white men is $24,110 a year. D.C. had the largest annual gap of $53,680.
Eliminating the wage gap would make the difference in Black women being able to afford several necessities such as childcare for two and a half years, full tuition and fees at a two-year community college, 153 weeks of food for her family, 15 months mortgage, and utility payments, and 22 more months rent.
The National Partnership further found that 80% of Black women are the breadwinners in their families. Equal pay is a matter of equal economic opportunity for the entire Black family. An estimated 25 percent of Black women-led households live below the poverty line. Black women are disproportionately locked into lower-wage jobs with little advancement and often no benefits such as secure scheduling and paid leave.
A’shanti Gholar, host of the Brown Girls Guide to Politics podcast, dedicated this season of the podcast to examine the pandemic through a lens that centers on Black, brown and indigenous women. Reflecting on the “Shecession,” a term referencing the recession’s gendered impact, Gholar said Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is a reminder of how much Black women are denied.
“Even before this pandemic, we knew that black women were suffering,” said Gholar. “And that this pandemic was only going to make things worse.”
She said that the conversation needs to shift to what policymakers will do to correct the ongoing injustice. Angela Peoples, co-founder of The South, echoed the sentiment about the pandemic exposing Black women’s hardships.
“It also made clear who is shouldering the burden of care in our economy — care for children, care for elderly, care in the hospital — Black women, Black immigrant women, and Black mothers,” Peoples said. “And just how absolutely critical care work is to a functioning economy.”
Part of equal pay is also valuing the labor done by women and recognizing its vital contribution to their communities and society as a whole. Most domestic workers are Black or other women of color. These roles often make far less than other types of employment.
“As a mother, business owner, and organizer, I think a lot about the expenses and the work that goes uncompensated and unacknowledged,” Peoples continued. “The pandemic forced more people to see how much work it is to keep a household functioning in the hard times and just how big a difference public investment can make in helping to shoulder that burden.”
Gholar reflected on a prior podcast episode in which she interviewed Ai-jen Poo, co-founder the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Poo recounted a story from before the pandemic of a meeting where one woman held up account balance to show she had only a few cents in her account.
The struggle has been real long before the pandemic, and with the additional strain the COVID-19 pandemic has had on health care and domestic needs, Black women’s labor and work will continue to be stretched to the limit.
But paying Black women equally is also a matter of equity and valuing their labor. Whether a domestic worker, teacher, journalist or other professional Black women are not simply their labor and what they can do for other people. They are experts in their fields and deserve to be compensated accordingly.
“If you can reach out to me to want to pick my brain for advice because you know that I’m good at this thing, you should pay me for it,” Gholar said. “I’m obviously a value and an asset.”