Ensuring equal pay for black women is not just about work, it’s also about family

Every year, Black Women’s Pay Equal Day is recognized as the day when black women’s earnings finally catch up with white men’s the previous year. In other words, it indicates how far in the current year black women must work to match what white men earned in the previous year, among full-time, full-year workers. In 2019, black women earned 63 cents for every dollar earned by white men, among full-time, full-year workers. The economic consequences of this gap are significant, taking into account higher poverty rates; weaker measures of wealth; and over $ 964,000 in lost wages over a 40-year career.

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day typically sparks discussions about the persistent and long-standing disparities in pay for black women and the need for equal pay for black women. But ensuring equal pay for black women requires more than a day-long talk about wages. This requires a comprehensive and ongoing examination of the various factors driving the wage gap to inform the interventions needed in response. This is especially important because the wage disparities experienced by black women are often the result of other barriers to employment, such as excessive concentration in low-paying jobs; lack of strong work-family supports to help with care obligations; and perceptions and stereotypes about the attitude, work ethic and skills of black women. The pay gap for black women is also deeply rooted in perspectives on work, gender and family roles – and, more specifically, on how black women are expected to navigate these sometimes competing roles and the value of the work they do in doing so. . These barriers and views are often overlooked in political discussions despite their negative effect on wages, but they are an important part of the pay equation for black women and value the work they do.

Caregivers are underestimated and undervalued

The roles of black women as caregivers in their families and as caregivers can affect their wages, both in terms of perceptions of care work and taking charge of care work at work. Perceptions of caregiving, largely as part of women’s responsibilities, have led to a devaluation of caring work. Women are expected to take on family responsibilities as personal obligations – and because work is personal, it is not considered to be of value like other forms of paid work. This view also affects the perceptions of social workers themselves – who are overwhelmingly women and often disproportionately black women – and, as a result, are paid low wages for the work they do. Additionally, black women’s wages – and, in fact, most women’s wages – are also affected by the lack of robust work-family policies to help them meet their work and family obligations. Women shoulder most of the family responsibilities. For this reason, workplace policies such as paid family leave and medical leave that allow workers to better adapt to these obligations are particularly important for women. Such policies can help women stay engaged in the workforce and maintain and increase their wages. Without policies that allow them time off to care for themselves, too many women may have to sacrifice their jobs, wages, or both to meet their caregiving responsibilities.

Support for caregivers is crucial to ensure equal pay

Access to care support is especially important for black women, as black women are economic engines for their families. For example, an estimated 85 percent of black mothers are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinner (s) in their family. Yet the care needs of black women are too often dismissed as unimportant or secondary to their paid work obligations. Work-family policy solutions are often seen through too narrow a lens focused on white women, in part because of long-held biases that value the experiences and caregiving roles of white women over those of black women. and other women of color. Rather, black women are expected to go to work, to be satisfied with having a job – any job, no matter how good – and to put that job ahead of personal, caring needs. or family. Rather than receiving support to manage work-family conflict, the underlying assumption, whether in public discourse, in the workplace, or within families themselves, is that the family needs of women black women should take a back seat to their paid professional responsibilities. This assumption has a long history, rooted in the legacy of black women as domestic workers and caregivers, often for low pay and with an intrinsic expectation of putting the care needs of others ahead of their own. Black women often know that they can be judged more harshly or negatively if they are seen to prioritize work over family and, in the absence of clear protection policies, may be reluctant to seek accommodations for meet their care needs. Thus, policies to help black women meet their caregiving responsibilities are essential to ensure that black women are fairly compensated for their work. Understanding these links between strong work-family policies and closing the wage gap is key to creating fair workplaces and increasing the wages of black women.

The lack of support for caregiving also plays a role in the jobs held by black women. Many of the top jobs black women work, such as cashiers and nursing aides, are among the lowest paying jobs in all occupations. Low-paying jobs are much less likely to have access to work-family supports such as the various forms of paid time off that workers need to meet their work and family needs. For example, among the bottom quartile of employees, only 8% have access to paid family leave. In contrast, among the top quartile of employees, 33% have access to paid family leave. This means that when faced with a challenge of caregiving, black women – who are more likely to work in low-paying jobs – often lack political protections that allow them to take time off work without putting their own money down. job in danger.


Black Women’s Equal Pay Day should be more than a day to discuss pay in isolation. Rather, it should be the start of a conversation about how to overcome the underlying obstacles that leave far too many black women without the support they sorely need and have long awaited. Access to workplace policies such as paid family leave and medical leave, coupled with efforts to tackle discriminatory stereotypes and strengthen the enforcement of equal pay across the board, could go a long way. difference in the ability of black women to care for their families, keep their jobs and achieve economic stability. Valuing the roles of caregiver of black women is essential to make equal pay a reality for black women.

Jocelyn Frye is a senior member of the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

Comments are closed.