Black Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on August 3 this year. The date reflects the 214 days Black women must work into 2021 to earn what the average non-Hispanic white man made in 2020. This is because Black women earn $0.63 on average to a white man’s $1. (The numbers are even more stark for Native American and Latinx women, who must work until September 8, and October 21, respectively, to earn pay parity with white men.)
“The fact that we are talking about this every year reflects the stubborn, structural nature of pay inequities, which is manifold,” says Valerie Wilson, director at the Economic Policy Institute. “Occupational segregation limits Black women’s access to higher paying occupations. But even when employed in the same occupation, pay discrimination results in lower earnings for women relative to men.”
Gloria L. Blackwell, executive vice president and chief program officer at the American Association of University Women, agrees. “It is kind of mind-boggling that, more than half a century after pay discrimination became illegal in the United States, we’re still seeing such a stubborn pay gap between men and women.”
Moreover, a lack of paid leave affects the professional trajectory of all women. When women are unable to take paid breaks from their career for maternity leave or to care for elderly family members, they often exit the workforce entirely, and their salaries and career opportunities are affected by this hiatus.
“The lack of a national policy of paid leave means that women are more likely to take unpaid time out,” says Wilson. “The combination of factors means, on average, women start their careers with a pay gap that they are never able to close.”
Last year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day occurred on August 13 and provided an opportunity to spotlight the economic hardships Black women—many of whom are essential workers and/or caregivers—are facing due to the pandemic. These challenges remain, as COVID infection rates surge across the country. “Just looking at some of the unemployment data from last year, we know that at every educational level, Black workers have higher unemployment rates compared to their white counterparts,” says Blackwell. “Most of the jobs lost during the pandemic recession were lost by women of color.”
Despite the fact that so many women have dropped out of the workforce (or scaled back their hours) during the pandemic, the date of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day has not been pushed back—at least not yet. Next year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day will reflect more up-to-date annual earnings data from the U.S. Census population survey, says Wilson.
Though the most revealing labor statistics won’t be released until this fall, it’s likely next year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day will show a lack of progress. “Based on what we do know,” says Blackwell, “it appears that some of the gains that Black women have made over the past several decades have been erased, [since] the highest levels of job loss were in such sectors as retail, hospitality, tourism, and service industries, which tend to employ large numbers of Black women.”