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Report: Black women work hard but earn less than most Americans

26th June 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on “The Status of Black Women in the United States” recent study.

Black women are swimming upstream, battling a strong current. For their efforts at work, Black women don’t reap the financial rewards that many other Americans do, according to “The Status of Black Women in the United States,” released in early June as part of a series that began two decades ago. The study, covering 50 states and the District of Columbia, was conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, along with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in New York.

Here, we’ll consider economic findings from the study, which also examined health, violence and safety, and political participation.

Black women in the United States support their families, often solely, and they’re active community members and leaders, the IWPR study says. They fought to desegregate schools in the 1950s and 1960s, helped spur passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and continue to organize for racial equality.

At work, Black women enrich their employers but discrimination often keeps their careers in check. African-American women are concentrated in low-wage occupations with few benefits, and that impacts their families.

The study’s findings resonate in states in the Deep South, home to large Black populations. In Louisiana, Black women are paid 48 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in the state, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2015. The pay gap isn’t much better for Mississippi’s Black women. Louisiana—which was 32 percent African-American in the 2010 census—has the nation’s third-biggest component of Blacks, following the District of Columbia and Mississippi.

In recent years, Louisiana politicians — particularly Democrats — have addressed wage disparities between groups. In Orleans Parish, where nearly 59 percent of the population is Black, Mayor Mitch Landrieu supports equal pay for women and also wants the minimum wage raised. Louisiana Governor Bel Edwards and a number of state Democratic legislators desire equal pay for women.

Nationally, 62.2 percent of Black women work, according to the IWPR study. And nearly 81 percent of Black mothers are either the sole earner or they provide at least 40 percent of their family’s income. Participation by Black women in the U.S. labor force is higher than it is among Black males.

U.S. Black women’s median earnings of $34,000 — for those working full-time and year-round—lag behind most Americans. In 2014, Black women working full-time brought home an annual paycheck that was only 64.6 percent of white men’s median $53,000. The IWPR researchers said that certain types of jobs hold African-American women back. About 28 percent of employed Black women are in service jobs, the nation’s lowest-wage group, and they often have no paid sick days or other basic benefits.

American Black women are looking to better themselves. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of Black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher surged by 23.9 percent. In 2014, about 22 percent of African-American women aged 25 and older held B.A. or higher degrees. That exceeded 17 percent of Black men. What’s more, the number of businesses owned by U.S. Black women swelled by 178 percent between 2002 and 2012 —the biggest gain in ownership among all Americans.

But despite these accomplishments, in the decade from 2004 to 2014 Black women’s real median annual earnings fell by five percent nationally. Today more Black women live in poverty compared with Black men and with women from other ethnic groups, except for Native Americans. Almost 25 percent of Black American women dwell in poverty, versus 18.9 percent of Black men and 10.8 percent of white women.

Constrained by lower earnings, many Black working mothers find that quality, child care isn’t affordable, according to the IWPR study. In most of the nation, the average cost of child care exceeds 20 percent of a Black woman’s median annual salary.

Black women represented by unions have substantial wage advantages and more access to pensions and other benefits than non-unionized Black women, the IWPR said. But the chance of joining a union depends on one’s industry and occupation. “Women working in the care industry as domestic workers, for example, experience substantial barriers to unionization,” the researchers said.

Last year, “Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian or Hispanic workers,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in January. “Men continued to have a slightly higher union membership rate, at 11.2 percent last year, than women at 10.2 percent.” In Louisiana, where unionization is among the nation’s lowest, only 4.9 percent of workers were members last year. New York was the most unionized state, with over 25 percent of all workers organized.

African-American women need access to education and jobs that pay family-sustaining wages, the IWPR researchers said. “Increases in the minimum wage, pay-equity legislation, the right and ability to form unions, and anti-discrimination laws are all ways to improve employment and economic opportunity for Black women,” they said.

On May 19, a Louisiana House labor committee voted to kill a state Senate bill, backed by Governor Bel Edwards, that would require businesses to pay the same wages to women and men for the same work. Republican committee members voted against it. Afterwards, Bel Edwards said the pay gap between women and men in Louisiana was the worst in the country and directly impacted families. Instead of talking about family values, it’s time to make decisions that value families, he said.

Nationally, the intention of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, was to end wage disparity. Women’s pay relative to men’s has increased since, but the law’s goals haven’t been met fully.

In late January, Mayor Landrieu issued an executive order aimed at bringing the City of New Orleans closer to equal pay for women. “The income disparity affects a woman’s ability to buy a home, pay student loans and support her family,” Landrieu said then. His order bans questions about salary history in job applications for city positions. At the mayor’s request, the Civil Service Commission is conducting a pay-disparity study among city employees.

On May 24, Louisiana’s Senate Finance Committee voted against a proposal from Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, and backed by Governor Bel Edwards, to raise the minimum wage to $8 an hour next year from $7.25 now.

“The Status of Black Women in the United States” relied on data from federal agencies and nonprofit groups. Its main source was an annual sample of the nation’s population, known as the American Community Survey, by the U.S. Census Bureau. ACS data is harmonized by the University of Minnesota’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.

The status study was funded by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the NoVo Foundation in New York and the Ford Foundation in New York. For more, see

This article originally published in the June 26, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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