Black Women Are Essential. It’s Time We Treated Them That Way.

By Cherita Ellens, President & CEO of Women Employed

Even though our communities would collapse without their work, as a society, we don’t treat Black women as essential.

The pay gap for Black women has only narrowed by nineteen cents from 1967 to 2018. Black women are paid, on average, thirty-eights cents on the dollar less than white men. This loss represents $1,962 per month, $23,540 per year, and a staggering $941,600 over a 40-year career. Ultimately, this affords Black women less opportunity to build wealth and economic security for themselves and their families.

Thursday, August 13th is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. It’s the day that represents how far into 2020 the average Black woman has to work for her earnings to catch up to what a white man earned in 2019. It’s a sobering fact, and it’s a call to action.

In 2020, white families have ten times the wealth of Black families, and single Black women own $200 in wealth for every $28,900 single white men own. This legacy of intersectional bias destabilizes Black families, damages Black communities, and leaves an entire segment of our population at a disadvantage nearly impossible to overcome.

The jobs that Black women hold tend to be low paid, without critical benefits like paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, and health insurance. According to a recent survey commissioned by Time’s Up Foundation, 48 percent of Black women surveyed say that they do not have a stable, good-paying job that pays the bills allows or savings and allows them to be healthy; and 55 percent of the same Black women surveyed have less than $200 in savings.

Black women have fewer opportunities for advancement than their male and white female counterparts. Of all 500 companies in the Fortune 500, only 37 have female CEOs, and not one is Black.

Significant interventions through policy changes, employer practices, and shifts in mindsets and values must take place or these gaps will widen in the wake of our current public health crisis and looming economic downturn.

We hear a lot these days about essential work — about celebrating the people who are keeping us safe, treating our sick, ensuring our grocery stores stay open and our society still runs. More than one third of Black women work in front-line jobs. They are concentrated in extremely important roles — home health aides, nursing assistants, personal care aids, cashiers, and other retail workers. And in each of these occupations, they are still paid less than their white male counterparts. According to a study by Lean In and McKinsey, Black women are twice as likely to have been laid off, furloughed, or had their hours or pay reduced during this pandemic than white men.

There are some clear steps we must take to begin to close this chasm in earnings and wealth. That includes passing paid sick time and paid family and medical leave for all working people in Illinois and nationwide, providing all working people with living wages and benefits, ensuring working people have access to fair and predictable schedules, ensuring all families have access to affordable child care, increasing the number of Black women in leadership and management roles, and investing in Black communities as well as the organizations that serve them.

Advocates often tout equal pay for equal work. But the wage gap is more complex than that. Recently, there has been productive conversation around the need for racial equity. We must make sure the valuing of Black women, and her work is part of that conversation.

Recent events have shown us the power we have in coming together to effect change. This Black Women’s Equal Pay Day raise your voice for change. We all have a role to play to make a better future for Black women and families.

Cherita Ellens is the President and CEO of Women Employed, an organization that since 1973 has relentlessly worked to improve the economic status of women and remove the barriers to economic equity. With a set focus on increasing the economic stability and opportunities for women in low-wage jobs and women of color by effecting policy change, expanding access to educational opportunities, and advocating for fair and inclusive workplaces so that all women, families, and communities thrive.

WE relentlessly pursue equity for women in the workforce by effecting policy change, expanding access to education, & advocating for fair, inclusive workplaces.