Race and Beyond: Why Black Women’s Equal Pay Day Matters

By Gabrielle Bozarth and Naomi Kellogg/Monday, August 22, 2016

black women

A Georgia Department of Labor services specialist helps a woman with a job search at an unemployment office in Atlanta on March 3, 2016.

In honor of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, regular Race and Beyond columnist Sam Fulwood III invited interns Gabrielle Bozarth and Naomi Kellogg to reflect on the intersecting barriers of gender, race, and age in the U.S. workforce.

Tomorrow marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which observes the amount of time it takes the average black woman to earn the same pay that the average white man earns in one calendar year. Because black women earn 60 percent of what their white male counterparts do—a rate much lower than the 79 percent national pay gap for all women—it takes approximately eight additional months for them to reach pay parity with white men. Years of advocacy and progress have resulted in black women working across all fields and reaching high levels of academic achievement, with more than half of all black women between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled in college. While black women have made notable professional contributions and become the most educated group in the nation, these advancements have not shown a considerable effect on wage disparities.

Black women’s pay disparity is especially concerning for Millennials—the nation’s most diverse generation ever—who now make up the majority of workers. In May 2015, Millennials surpassed Generation Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, and in April 2016, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. As the youngest Millennials get older, graduate college, and begin looking for jobs, many are faced with two specific barriers: their race and gender. As young black women of the Millennial generation, we shoulder both the struggles and the hopes of our mothers and grandmothers: to be more, build more, and catapult our families to new heights—and new tax brackets. In this legacy, wage equality is our principle concern.

In the current U.S. economy, securing a first job out of college can be difficult, especially for black Americans. Regardless of educational achievement, black American unemployment rates are similar to or higher than those of less-educated white Americans. For example, the unemployment rate for black Americans with bachelor’s degrees or higher is nearly double that of their white counterparts: 4.1 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.

Even if we ace the interview and land the job, as black women, we are likely to be underpaid. This is a frightening prospect as we wrap up our undergraduate college careers and look to build a life and a future of financial success. Men make more than women in all but five occupations, and even in those occupations, women of color are paid the lowest on average.

Black women in the workplace face a number of struggles: from stereotypes about women’s roles and harsh critiques of women’s leadership to lack of informational and mentoring networks in many fields. Black women experience unique obstacles that are a result of our compounded identities. Income inequality presents many barriers, as black women may also have to work multiple jobs or longer hours and do not have the time to network and develop the relationships with their coworkers and superiors that are key to career advancement.

Black women who are pregnant face even greater barriers to success in the workplace. While many pregnant women are able to work through pregnancy without difficulty, some women need temporary job modifications in order to continue working safely. A 2008 report noted that women of color and immigrant women are disproportionately likely to work in physically demanding and low-wage jobs and thus are highly likely to need accommodations during pregnancy—similar to those defined in, but not enforced by, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers often refuse to make these adjustments for pregnant women, forcing young black women, like us, to make an impossible choice between keeping our jobs and advancing our careers or protecting our health. Our struggle as young black Millennial women is multifaceted, and making 60 cents to the dollar of our white male counterparts further exacerbates these issues.

The unfortunate reality of the wage gap is that black women are set up to fail; the 40 cents we miss out on accumulates and limits us from fully participating in the U.S. economy. This money could help us pay off student loan debt, buy our first home, or purchase a car. It could help us pay for quality care for our children or put healthy food on the table. On average, black women earn $19,399 less than white men every year, and in 2013 dollars, this would be enough to pay for: feeding a household of four for two years with more than $4,000 to spare, the median cost of rent and utilities for one year, full-time child care for a four-year-old for two years, student loan payments for four years, or more than 300 tanks of gas with $1,000 to spare.

But earning less does not just affect our present, it affects our future. Being underpaid for equal work contributes to an increasing wealth gap and inheritance gap, infringing on prospects of upward mobility for future generations. Black women head 68 percent of black households, and black families have 13 times less wealth than white families, holding only $11,000 in comparison to the $141,900 in wealth white families possess. A lack of wealth and savings also means black families have less to pass down to their children, widening the inheritance gap.

Lack of inheritance coupled with lower earnings for equal work inherently limit the upward social mobility of black women and their children. Half of black children who are born poor remain poor, and 70 percent of black children born in middle-class families end up worse off than their parents.

Under current public policy, total wage equality for all women will not be reached in the United States until 2059; this means that in some states, our grandchildren may be the first to earn an equitable wage at the start of their careers. This inequality is not only of concern for us and our families but also for the nation’s future. Given the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling and globalization of markets, money has become inextricably tied to power.

As we end our undergraduate careers and begin to enter the workforce, it is troubling to note that our starting salaries may be too low, our upward mobility too slow, our purchasing power too weak, and our investments too small to become this nation’s leaders. Economic repression of black women is a strategy for maintaining the status quo—and so far, it is working.

Gabrielle Bozarth is a rising senior at Dartmouth College, studying government and women, gender, and sexuality studies. Naomi Kellogg is a rising junior at Indiana University, studying nonprofit management and education policy. Both served as Progress 2050 interns at the Center for American Progress during the summer of 2016.

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Together, we can build a stronger Oregon Coast economy


If opportunity were edible, the Oregon Coast would be capable of feeding many mouths. Up and down the coast from Brookings to Astoria, and particularly in Senate District 5 — the area I represent, stretching from Tillamook to Coos Bay — no one can dispute the stunning natural beauty and healthy living opportunities available to those who choose to make their homes here.

Still, for many reasons, we have struggled to attract many new working aged individuals or — sometimes most painfully — to retain and re-attract our own children to our communities. Lack of economic opportunity, whether real or perceived, is the primary motivating factor in these losses. Instead of pointing fingers, the only way to continue building on coastal economic successes is to continue finding common ground and working together.

When government, private business, the non-profit sector and community leaders are on the same page with the common goal, we can achieve a prosperous future for our children and grandchildren in our region.

I was encouraged by the large turnout at the fifth-annual Oregon Coast Economic Summit recently at The Mill Casino in North Bend. With more than 500 registered participants, it was the best attended so far. It also seems to have sparked several meaningful conversations that could potentially take shape into economic opportunities for the Oregon Coast. It will take a diverse approach with many different players to carve out that bright future we all seek, and we hope that these conversations will spur some of those opportunities.

Natural resources will continue to be a big part of the mix, with Oregon’s world-class timber products, seafood, cranberries, dairy products, tulips and other traditional mainstays. Additionally, new industries are emerging. Craft breweries up and down the coast are thriving and some are gaining international attention for the quality of their products. Capitalizing on the natural beauty of the area, we can garner greater market share in eco-tourism and recreation. We already boast renowned golfing opportunities, but there are other recreational possibilities just waiting to be tapped that can translate into new and thriving local businesses.

Visitors are a key component of our economic growth, not just for the money they spend here, but more for the seed that we can plant with them. When people visit a place and fall in love with it — as most of us who live on the Oregon Coast already have done — they will want to bring their new or existing businesses here to stay. This creates long-term employment for our residents. And when a retiring worker leaves the workforce, they have the freedom and flexibility to choose where they want to live. When they move to our coastal and rural areas for the exceptional quality of life, retirees purchase goods and services in our communities, creating jobs. They have houses built, and they volunteer in the community. We can’t forget those valuable contributions to our economy and our communities.

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As the population continues to grow on the coast, particularly in the retirement segment, new opportunities are developing in the health care industry — often for jobs that are difficult to fill in rural communities around the state. These are great opportunities to make a good living and help people in our communities. We need to continue providing necessary incentives to attract top level health care talent to coastal and rural communities. This takes partnership, as well. Working together, we can address this need. To that end, I will be participating in several Health Care Rural Listening Tour meetings in Coos Bay, Florence and Lincoln City.

How do we retain and re-attract our young rural Oregonians? They are perhaps one of our greatest exports right now. It’s natural for those graduating from high school to want to leave and experience other parts of the state, nation or world. But when we create an enduring fondness through a positive childhood in our coastal communities, eventually many of them will want to come back home to raise their own families. They also will start and grow businesses, create opportunities and bring back an innate sense of passion for their community.

To accomplish these goals we need involvement from all sectors — public, private and non-profit — and have all hands on deck. We can continue rebuilding our coastal economy together through diverse, creative and meaningful partnerships. We can break down barriers to economic success by creating smoother interactions between government and private business, as well as non-profits, so that it is easier to find solutions and opportunities while preserving our outstanding quality of life. By doing this, we can become a shining example.

It’s like the good Sen. Ron Wyden said during the Economic Summit, “America’s rural agenda begins right here on the Oregon Coast.”

It can, and it should. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Sen. Arnie Roblan represents District 5, which includes Coos Bay, Florence, Newport and Tillamook. He is chair of the Senate Committee on Education


August 23, 2016 – African-American Women’s Equal Pay Day

Equal Pay Day, August 23, for African-American women is a full 236 days into a second year that they have to work to be equal in pay to the dollar paid white, non-Hispanic men  working just one year. In other words, their median pay in 2014 was 64 cents compared to the white man’s dollar, leaving a gap of 36 cents. One reason for the large wage gap is that African-American women experience both gender and race discrimination leading to a lifetime of low pay. Updated information from 2015 Census data shows that the median earnings for African-American women has declined to 60 percent of the white man’s dollar!

Based on the 2014 wage gap, African-American women would lose $877,480 over a 40-year working career compared to white non-Hispanic men and in some states the lifetime loss could be as high as more than $1 million.

Recent studies have calculated that closing the pay gap for all women would cut the poverty rate in half (8.1 percent to 3.9 percent), and for single women, the poverty rate would drop by more than half to 4.6 percent. At the same time, the economy would receive a huge boost of nearly a half-billion dollars from women receiving equal pay! For women of color, equal pay would lift many out of poverty and provide the financial stability needed to raise their families.