Unfinished Business

The Wage Gap for Black Women is Still Devastatingly Large

By Arielle Atherley, Policy Associate

Today marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day we acknowledge the eight additional months Black women must work in order to make the same amount of money that White, non-Hispanic men made the year before. That’s right – in 2016, Black women are paid, on average, just 60 cents for every dollar paid to White men. This amounts to a devastating loss of $21,937 per year.

It’s certainly not news that women’s wages continue to lag behind those of their male peers. According to the National Women’s Law Center, “women who work full time, year round in the United States are paid only 79 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.” For women of color, the gap is even worse.

Black women face unique challenges in the fight for pay equity. They are more likely to work in low-paying occupations and, even when they attain advanced degrees, they continue to face a disturbing wage gap. Additionally, more than 50 percent of Black women bring in half or more of their family income, leaving their households heavily reliant on their wages to make ends meet. This negatively impacts the lives of Black mothers, their families, and the communities that depend on them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black women make up the largest percentage of full-time minimum wage employees and the smallest percentage of people in high-paying occupations. Even where Black women secure positions in well-paid occupations, the wage gap persists. A Black female surgeon can expect to make just 52 cents on the dollar for every dollar earned by a White, non-Hispanic man.

Not even education can mitigate the wage discrepancy. Black women with a bachelor’s or advanced degree earn approximately $50,599, which is almost equivalent to what White, non-Hispanic men make with some college education, but no completed degree. Even worse? Black women with a bachelor’s degree only out-earn White men with high school degrees by about $1,800. This disparity makes it exceedingly difficult for highly educated Black women to pay off their student loans. In fact, a report by the American Association of University Women found that four years after graduation, Black women had paid off less than 10 percent of their debt. And over the course of a 40-year career, Black women have the potential to lose nearly $900,000 to the wage gap.

Black women – all women – can’t afford to keep losing. Through policies that address pay equity, the minimum wage, and other economic security measures, it’s imperative that the elimination of this devastating gap is a priority.


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