When is it Their Turn? Black Women and the Ever-Widening Pay Gap
By Sherri Kolade
Black women who want to earn just as much as White men would have to work about an extra seven months to catch up to them to make the same pay in America.
According to the U.S. Census, typically, Black women were paid 63 percent of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2019. A typical working Black woman in 19 months is then paid what the average White man makes in just one year.
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), an equity-based organization, women, especially Black and Latina women, were more likely to work in low-wage jobs.
The pay and wealth disparities that impact Black women also negatively touch the families they are raising, especially if they are the breadwinner. About 80 percent of Black mothers are the sole, co-, or primary breadwinners for their households, according to the report. And a good-paying job could mean riding a fine line between struggling and living comfortably for a family.
LaNeisha Gunn, diversity recruitment and partnerships manager at Novi-based HARMAN International, told the Michigan Chronicle that with Black women being a double minority, they are still fighting “across all levels.”
“Black women are [still] fighting equity and pay disparity, upward mobility and being noticed,” Gunn said, adding that they are even working above and beyond to be noticed and being “championed” by senior leaders. “I still see some of them have to work 10 times harder.”
According to the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organization, the overall Black-white wealth gap over the past three decades has increased. The median wealth of white households grew from $106,900 in 1992 to $185,400 in 2007 which is 7.8 times more than the average Black household ($24,100). According to the Federal Reserve, in the second quarter of 2020, white households—who make up 60 percent of the U.S. population—held 84 percent or $94 trillion of total household wealth in the U.S.
In comparison, Black households—who account for 13.4 percent of the U.S. population—held just 4 percent or $4.6 trillion of total household wealth.
Millennial and Detroiter Chantel Watkins is familiar with pay gaps. As the lead organizer for Michigan One Fair Wage, part of a national organization that champions fair pay, Watkins told the Michigan Chronicle previously that the organization is committed to fighting for $15 an hour for all hourly and tipped workers.
“We have people all over the country who work with legislators, workers, volunteers and organizers to get people a fair wage,” she said. “The people involved the most are actual workers, especially restaurant workers. People in the restaurant industry are paid minimum and a subminimum wage that has them living in poverty and putting up with work conditions they otherwise would not.”
These inequities didn’t happen by chance.
Historically, Black women have been undervalued and even skipped over for opportunities although they are the most educated group in the United States according to national statistics. This is nothing new. During the 1930s and 1940s, Black women had few career choices: maid, nanny, laundress or cook. Forty percent of Black women worked in some type of domestic job, according to information from the Detroit Historical Society’s (DHS) Detroit Historical Museum. Racial discrimination prevented Black women from being educated and employed fairly. And when World War II began, Black women wanted the opportunity to have a good-paying factory job, like white women, but were often excluded from these positions, according to information from the DHS.
This longtime nationwide (even worldwide) issue is inspiring others to speak up. A Black woman, who has worked at Amazon since 2017 is suing the company for racial discrimination, according to a CBS News article. She says that the company doesn’t promote employees of color and pays them less than white coworkers. She applied for a higher-up job and though she was qualified she was passed over for someone else. The lawsuit was filed this month.
Cameo King, who runs a Jackson-based nonprofit, Grit, Glam and Guts, and a podcast that helps girls and women be their authentic selves, told the Michigan Chronicle that the pay equity gap is real and she has been on the receiving end after graduating from college and getting a job as a TV producer but being paid well below her worth.
“You do know your worth and sometimes you don’t,” she said adding that Black women should also “pay it forward” if they have the ability to help other Black women advance when they made it. “A lot of Black women are the leaders and opening up new businesses and being entrepreneurs and have the … ability to pay Black women [for] their work.”
King once used another Black woman’s services and she invoiced her a low amount, which King kindly rejected and requested for her to bill her more.
“I hope she would learn to charge more,” she said adding that she gladly paid the woman her worth, which was more than double the initial fee. “It’s interesting because when I’m paying it forward, I still don’t have that equity or wealth. … But I understand. I get it.”
“If you have enough Black women saying ‘no’ or demanding [more] I think companies will understand,” she said.
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