Black woman working

Black woman working. (stock)

When Ciara Caddell first became employed by a major retailer, she thought there would be opportunity to grow.

The 28-year-old Philadelphia woman worked for the retailer's electronics department and found out a male colleague's hourly wages were more than his female co-workers.

Caddell applied to be transferred from electronics to the receiving area, which offered higher wages. But managers told her the receiving area was better suited to men because it required workers to lift heavy boxes. Caddell left the company after five years for a job with better pay.

Aug. 22 marks the observance of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day — the date in 2019 that Black women on average had to work through to match what white men on average earned in 2018. This means it takes the typical Black woman 19 months to be paid what the average white man takes home in 12 months.

“Black women who work full time, year round in the United States are typically only paid 61 cents for every $1 that is paid out to their male counterparts,“ explained Shannon Williams, program director, Equal Pay Today Campaign.

“So they’re working a lot longer to achieve equity and over the course of their lifetime and over the course of their working span they’re losing a great deal of earnings.”

The Equal Pay Today! Campaign, launched by national and state women's rights organizations on the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, is calling for an end to the gender wage gap that persists in nearly every industry and profession in the country.

In 2017, median annual earnings in the U.S. for men working full time, year-round were $52,146, compared to just $41,977 for women, according to the most recent census data.

White women's Equal Pay Day was April 2.

Asian-American women's Equal Pay Day was March 5. Native American women on average will not earn what white men on average did in 2018 until Sept. 23, and Latina women on average will not earn what white men on average did in 2018 until Nov. 20.

“We think that Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is so important because 80% of Black mothers are really the primary and sole breadwinners of their households,” Williams said.

“With Black women leading their households and being paid unfairly and not making the wages of their male counterparts, it really does have disadvantaging, rippling effects on their communities and you can see that impact.”

Valerie Wilson, director of Economic Policy Institute’s Program of Race, Ethnicity and the Economy says Black women are experiencing a pay gap on the basis of both gender and race.

“We know that there is a racial wage gap that exists on average between Black workers and white workers, but then on top of that, Black women have the added penalty imposed by gender. There is also a gender gap,” she said.

Williams acknowledged the role that discrimination plays within the workplace.

“We know what gender discrimination looks like and we know what racial discrimination looks like in the workplace, but Black women are kind of unique because we sit at the intersection of race and gender," she added.

"While both forms of discrimination are visibly different, that impact is really compounded when you're experiencing it at the same time."

The American Association of University Women notes that Black women are more likely to work in lower-paying service occupations and less likely to work in higher paying tech fields or managerial positions, which accounts for some of the pay gap.

And while Black women are making strides in higher educational attainment, earning college degrees has not equated to economic parity. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that in 2018, 26.9% of African-American women over the age of 25 had earned at least a bachelor's degree, and 1,185,000 Black women held master's degrees.

“One of the things that we have seen when we look at the Black, white wage gap on average is that gap has actually grown the most among college graduates,” Wilson said.

“If you have a college degree, in most cases, you will be earning more money than someone without a college degree, but that degree does not necessarily bring you to parity when we talk about the relative wages of whites and Blacks.”

Williams says education is not an equalizer in this particular space.

“Relying only on education alone to pay the pay gap for Black women doesn’t really work because we already trail behind in terms of wealth,” she said.

“Given that Black women do face barriers between getting admitted to college and paying for college and managing student loans — sometimes that higher education piece — although we do it to get us on the same playing field, actually ends up becoming more of an undertaking. Without being guaranteed the same pay, we can’t really guarantee that future benefit from having those degrees.”


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