JOI CHANEY | Equal Pay Today! Campaign, A project of the Tides Center
Imagine it is Friday afternoon — payday Friday! The day you look forward to after hard work. The day you know you will be able to care for your children and family. The day you move one step closer to owning a new home. The day you move one step closer to paying off your student loans or a dignified retirement. It’s also the day you stop by the local small business or big box store to shop for what you and your family need (and maybe a little of what you want). It’s the day you should feel closest to achieving the American Dream.
But when you look at your paystub, it’s 40 percent less than you expected. It makes no sense — you put in the hours, you worked hard — why would you get paid less than you earned? Worse, you’re pretty sure others have been paid more than you, even though you worked just a hard as them. How are you going to do any of the things you and your family need to survive — much less thrive — in the America you helped build?
Sounds like an exaggeration? Maybe for you, but for the African American women reading this post (and for the one writing this post), sadly, this is not a fictitious scenario. This is our reality.
According to U.S. Census 2014 data, on average, African American women make $.60 for every $1 made by a White man. So while most observed Equal Pay Day on April 12th — the approximate day the average woman’s earnings catch-up to the earnings of the average White, non-Hispanic man, Equal Pay Day for African American is observed today, August 23rd, four months later. African American women have to work nearly 20 months to earn what white men earn in 12 months.
Moreover, African American women are paid 80 percent of what White women make and 82 percent of what African American men make, underscoring the intersectional role race and gender play in income inequality. The gap persists even when you account for differences in occupation, experience, and education, which leads most experts (and anyone with common sense) to believe illegal discrimination or unfair bias is a major factor that accounts for this inequity.
Multiple generations of my sister circle have come face-to-face with this incredible reality. My mom, a pediatrician from the Baby Boomer generation, dealt with discrimination from banks when she tried to get a business loan in the 1970s. My fellow Generation X, god-sister’s manager told her last year she was paid less than her colleague because, “He has a family.” My best friend — a new mother — was denied a major client because her boss assumed her family responsibilities would preclude her from performing at her best. Sometimes it feels like the only thing that’s changed is the date on the calendar.
Who suffers as a result of this inequality? It’s not just African American women — which would be wrong enough — the impact is felt by everyone, especially families. While all women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners or co-breadwinners of their family, African American women — married or unmarried — are more likely to be so. This means discrimination in pay impacts the entire family. When you consider also that African American men also make less than White, non-Hispanic men, it’s no wonder that some estimate it will take 228 years for African American families to reach the same wealth White families have today. And while more data on LGBTQ persons is needed across the board, households led by African American lesbian couples typically earn less than African American gay male couple households.
And these stats are just based on national numbers. The discrimination in pay your state could be far worse. As an example, the average African American women will lose more than 870,000 over the course of her 40-year career, but in some states African American women will lose more than $1 million.
So, we know it’s bad for African American women, but the question is: What is being done about it?
Women’s legal and worker’s rights organizations, like the one I run, the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, are working in coalition at the local, state, regional and national level to close the gender wage gap for all women, including African American women. Through six state projects in California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Washington State and the work of our roundtable member organizations across the country, we are working to address the major legal, legislative, policy and cultural issues that allow the wage gap to persist and undermine women’s economic security. Issues like: pay secrecy and retaliation for discussing pay, pregnancy and caregiver discrimination, the lack of adequate paid family or medical leave, occupational segregation, or the lack of a livable minimum wage — all of which disproportionately impact African American women.
And we are hope you will take action as well:
1) Educate yourself, the women in your life, and the employers in your life about the African American Women’s wage gap and the wage gap generally.
2) TAKE ACTION:
a. Follow and join the coalition Twitter Storm on Tuesday, August 23rd at 2:00–3:00 pm ET to create awareness about the gender and racial wage gap for African American women, using the hashtags #BlackWomensEqualPay and #60Cents.
b. Encourage your employer to take the White House Equal Pay Pledge and review DOL’s Employers’ Guide to Equal Pay. If you are an employer yourself, take the pledge, review the guide, and makes strides, where necessary, to close the gender wage gap in your workplace.
c. Advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes and update outdated federal equal pay laws to strengthen enforcement, thereby ensuring the right to equal pay for equal work no matter what state you live in.
d. Engage with Equal Pay Today organizations across the country, who are fighting successfully for greater women’s economic security. 9to5 (Denver, CO), A Better Balance (New York, NY), ACLU Women’s Rights Project (New York, NY), American Association of University Women (Washington, DC), California Women’s Law Center (Los Angeles, CA), Equal Rights Advocates (San Francisco, CA), Gender Justice (St. Paul, MN), Legal Aid Society- Employment Law Center (San Francisco, CA), Legal Momentum (New York, NY), Legal Voice (Seattle, WA), Mom’s Rising (Greater Washington, DC), National Center for Law and Economic Justice (New York, NY), National Employment Law Project (New York, NY), National Partnership for Women and Families (Washington, DC), National Women’s Law Center (Washington, DC), ROC-United (New York, NY), Southwest Women’s Law Center (Albuquerque, NM), Women Employed (Chicago, IL), Women’s Law Project (Philadelphia, PA).
Even if we do all of these things, equal pay for African American women and for all women won’t close over night, but it can close over our lifetime. Our daughters shouldn’t have to deal with the same issues our great grandmothers did. African American women, who overwhelmingly realize the importance of this issue and vote in record numbers, are powerful advocates in their community, but they shouldn’t stand alone. We need everyone standing up for equal pay and economic security regardless of race, gender or ethnicity to ensure the American Dream is possible for everyone.
Joi Chaney is the Executive Director of the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, a Project of the Tides Center. Previously, she served as an advisor in the Office of Chair at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.