Economy Race

Pandemic Puts a Spotlight on Black Women’s Pay Gap

This year, August 13 marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which represents the approximate date into the new year that Black women must work in order to make what the average white non-Hispanic man made the previous year, recognizing the steep wage gap.

Unlike other years, however, the date falls in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, putting a spotlight on the Black women who are risking their health to work frontline jobs. Currently, the average Black woman makes 62 cents for every dollar that a white, non-Hispanic man makes. Black mothers are even further impacted, making only 50 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.  

However, this year’s coronavirus outbreak calls for a closer look at Black women workers. The pandemic has deemed certain workers as essential, including but not limited to healthcare workers, retail workers, teachers, custodians, and food service workers. According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than 1 in 3 Black women are working these jobs on the frontline. These women remain disproportionately underpaid despite greatly contributing to the workforce and providing essential services. 

According to Nina Banks, associate professor of economics at Bucknell University, the pay gap is “particularly distressing” when considering that Black women have always had higher labor force participation rates than women of other races.  Many also worry that the pandemic will only further widen the wage gap, putting Black women at a clear disadvantage.

“While it’s difficult to say with certainty what impact COVID is going to have on Black women’s earning and wage disparities going forward, we certainly know it has interrupted the potential for Black women to increase or push for higher wages,” said Michelle Holder, assistant professor of economics at the City University of New York. She continues to explain that with more frequent layoffs, workers are losing their leverage.  The pay gap has not changed in 25 years and if it continues unchanged, Black women could lose nearly $950,000 over the course of a lifelong career.

Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center, notes the urgency of the current situation: “If this is not the time to fix it, when is it going to be the time? When is it going to be more dire or more clear?” 

Sources: National Women’s Law Center; NBC News 8/13/20; CNBS 8/13/20