It’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, and it still takes 263 extra days to ‘catch up’

Arriving seven weeks later than in 2021, Black Women's Equal Pay Day 2022 indicates Black women make $.58 to every dollar made by their white male counterparts.

Amid an ongoing pandemic and tremendous losses in employment that disproportionately impacted Black women, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day arrived on Aug. 3 in 2021. It marked the date in a successive year a Black woman would have to work to earn the annual equivalent made by a non-Hispanic white man — and noting that Black women make, on average, $.63 on that dollar annually.

This year, the date is seven weeks later and the deficit has increased. Black women are currently making $.58 on the dollar, and while the disparity exists across sectors, lower- to middle-income women remain the most vulnerable.

To better understand the increased disparity, the persistent obstacles Black women are facing and the ongoing fight for equal pay, theGrio spoke with Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, and Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage and director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day
Black women are currently making $.58 on the dollar (compared with non-Hispanic white men), and while the disparity exists across sectors, lower- to middle-income women remain the most vulnerable. (Photo: AdobeStock)

“Black women’s Equal Pay Day this year is based on comparing all Black women workers to all white, non-Hispanic men workers. This is a change from earlier years when we focused on full-time, year-round workers only and that’s what is primarily driving the change in the date,” said Frye. “We and other groups working on equal pay made this shift, which is led by women-of-color-led organizations, in order to be more inclusive of all workers. For example, by shifting to include all workers, instead of limiting to full-time, year-round workers, we included 33 million more women workers in the wage gap calculation.”

Refining the data is crucial in addressing wage inequality, particularly when considering race, gender and other factors, Frye said. “It is critical to take concrete steps to strengthen enforcement against pay discrimination and collect better quality data about pay practices to ensure that Black women across the workforce are paid fairly.”

Continued Frye, “It’s essential and long overdue to focus on women who are less well-paid by raising the minimum wage and eliminating the subminimum wages for tipped and disabled workers, ensuring equitable access to paid family and medical leave; high-quality, affordable child care and other essential caregiving supports, and improving access to higher education — though wage gaps still exist at all education levels.”

In tandem with Black Women’s Equal Pay Day 2022, One Fair Wage published “Intentional Inequality” (pdf), a report on the pay gap for Black women in the restaurant industry — “one of the largest employers of women generally and Black women, in particular,” Jayaraman noted.

As theGrio’s Michael Harriot previously explained, the restaurant industry’s notoriously low wages — the lowest of any American industry — dates to Emancipation and a post-chattel slavery model intended to undermine the earning power of newly freed Black women (and men) by forcing them to rely on tips as their sole income in place of a livable wage. With the practice persisting well over a century later, inevitably “conditions worsened for women of color during the pandemic,” said Jayaraman.

“[F]or example, Black women workers in our report were more than twice as likely to report that their tips are now so low that they’re not even earning their state’s minimum wage,” she added. “Black women restaurant workers reported that their tips went down far more than other workers — particularly when they tried to enforce COVID protocols on customers, for which they were retaliated against much more than other workers.”

With the largest pay gap compared with other industries — and one that overwhelmingly employs women (two-thirds of its workforce, according to One Fair Wage’s data) — the restaurant industry in continuing its resistance to ensuring a livable minimum wage further enforces the gender wage gap. As Jayaraman noted, it also ensures that Black women remain vulnerable to their customers’ biases, “even when they provide ‘perfect service,’” another driver of the wage gap.

As NPWF found in new research, this dynamic — termed “occupational segregation” — is an issue midterm voters should consider when heading to the polls in November. “[I]t’s critical that everyone turn out to vote. That’s how we exercise our power and invest in the health of our democracy,” said Frye.” It’s also essential that people know where the candidates stand on the issues that are essential to women. Fair pay is one of many issues critical to women’s well-being and economic security, but it’s not alone. Paid leave and other caregiving supports are also on the agenda, as are women’s fundamental rights and access to abortion care. Doing your research and making an informed choice — and then acting on that choice — is more important than ever.”

“Everyone should be asking candidates where they stand on equal pay laws, including and especially letting candidates know that voters will support candidates who pledge to raise the minimum wage and end the subminimum wage for tipped workers,” added Jayaraman.

Frye holds out hope that the confirmation of employment attorney Kalpana Kotagal to lead the country’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will result in “the data we need to identify when people are facing discrimination and the power to fight back against it.” However, she also noted that when considering the impact of policymaking, equal pay for Black women is unfortunately not an issue prioritized or specifically mitigated by the passage of the 2021 infrastructure bill, meaning further and persistent action is essential.

“Our analysis shows that if the status quo persists, Black women will get less than 4% of the new jobs created and will miss out on 18,100 infrastructure jobs annually,” said Frye. “We need to make sure Black women can access these jobs — which are typically higher paying and have better benefits … While fair pay impacts people individually, it’s truly a systemic issue and Black women are doubly harmed by the impact of racism and sexism.”

Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, great books and aesthetics, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body (Words of Change series)

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