Top 10 Numbers that Show Why Pay Equity Matters to African American Women and Their Families

Denise Armstrong helps her son Joseph, 13, with his schoolwork in a library in Richmond, Virginia.

Each year the United States commemorates Equal Pay Day to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. Data show that women still earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. This gender-based wage gap stubbornly remains despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 and a variety of legislation prohibiting employment discrimination.

The wage gap is even greater for most women of color. For African American women in particular, who only make 69.5 percent of all men’s earnings, pay equity is incredibly important to their families and communities. Here are 10 numbers that demonstrate why pay equity matters to African American women and their families.

1. $599: The average weekly earnings of black women, compared to $854 for men of all races and ethnicities. African American women earn only 68.1 cents to every dollar white men earn.

2. 4 million: The number of households in the United States headed by African American women. Forty percent of all households headed by African American women live below the poverty line, and that number rises to 50 percent in households with children under the age of 5. Pay equity would provide countless resources for these women and their families.

3. 62 percent: The share of African American women who have little or no money left to save for retirement once they pay their bills, according to the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement. Not only does the wage gap limit the immediate resources that African American women could have access to such as food or gallons of gas, it also adds up over the years and means fewer savings for Social Security and pension.

4. 1 percent: The share of U.S. corporate officers—those who are in senior-level positions or those who are corporate board members—who were black women in 2011. Since female executives earn on average 42 percent less than men, and income is based on pay history, it becomes unlikely that the pay gap for a black woman will significantly close during her career, even if she does beat the odds and obtain a high-paying position.

5. $5: The median wealth for a single African American woman, compared to $42,600 for a white woman. This means that black women are missing out on opportunities to accumulate wealth, preventing opportunities for saving or investment or for educating their children. In fact, by 2007 the dollar amount of the racial pay gap was enough to pay full tuition at a four-year public university for two children, plus tuition at a public medical school.

6. 765,000: The number of jobs eliminated in state and local governments between 2007 and 2011 as a result of the Great Recession. Women and African Americans comprised about 70 percent and 20 percent of those losses, respectively. As effects of the sequestration—and lingering effects of the Great Recession—are felt and these jobs reduced further, employment for African American women is being put on the chopping block, without the employee benefits needed to create a safety net. African American women need the income that is rightfully theirs regardless of the circumstances, but this need is magnified when one considers that their jobs are oftentimes the first to go.

7. 42 percent: The share of African American women who are not able to earn paid sick days to recover from illnesses. For a two-parent family household, just 3.5 sick days without pay is equivalent to losing an entire month of groceries.

8. $10,000 less: The joint income of African American lesbian couples compared to black same-sex male couples. According to the 2010 census, African American gay* and transgender same-sex couples are more likely than their white counterparts to struggle economically, while they are twice as likely as white couples to be raising children—38 percent of African Americans.

9. 18.6 percent less: The earnings of Haitian women compared to U.S.-born white women. West Indian women and African women also earn less than their white counterparts—8.3 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. Although immigrant women are key components of expanding a nation’s wealth, citizenship status sets black immigrant women back in terms of wages and benefits. Pay equity is necessary to bridge the gap not only between their female counterparts, but also between their earnings and those of all men.

10. 47.1 percent: The poverty rate for African American single mothers in 2010. This was significantly higher than the national poverty rate at that time of 15.1 percent. Approximately 50 percent of black children were part of families headed by single mothers in 2009. The wage gap limits the income single mothers have for themselves and their children, perpetuating their cycle of poverty.

It’s time for African American women to get what they have been working for in terms of pay equity. Factors such as job sector, sexual orientation, or citizenship status should not affect the level of earnings an African American woman receives. Pay equity is not only necessary to promote a just workforce in the long run, but it is also needed for the immediate benefit of the children and families of these hardworking women.

Sandra Shaker and Morriah Kaplan are interns with Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress.

* In this column, “gay” is used as an umbrella term for those who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual.