By Mercy Ogutu
I worked my way through high school and college at one of the fastest growing fast-food chains in the United States. I loved my job, but often was met with the reality of low wages. In my six years working in the same fast-food restaurant, I was trained in every position yet paid the same wage, with periodic, rare 25-cent raises. During my time working in fast-food restaurants, I heard the same stories of people who came before me: the old employees making the same amount or a dollar more as the new hires, limited opportunities to grow, the cost of childcare, or needing a car to become a manager. Throughout my journey, I worked with hard-working Black mothers who strived to provide for their children and stood proudly as cornerstones of their communities, despite the limited pay or opportunities for upward mobility. It is in their memory that I write on the meaning of today.
On this day, July 27, 2023, we recognize Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. Black Women’s Equal Pay Day highlights the problem of Black women disproportionately affected by the gender pay gap, signaling the date that Black women must work until to earn what non-Hispanic White men made in the previous year. Since the 1960s, Black women graduate college at higher rates but continue to make less money than other racial groups. As a society, we need to draw attention to the pay gap Black women face daily, from the start of their careers to the day of their retirement. As we acknowledge this year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, let us reflect on the work that still needs to be done.
On June 10, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed into law to mandate men and women receive the same pay for the same work. It has been 60 years since the Equal Pay Act became a law, but the pay gap persists. According to 2022 Census data, the wage gap for Black women as compared to non-Hispanic White men is 67 cents for full-time, year-round workers, and 64 cents for all workers, including those who work part-time. Black women need and deserve equal pay. In 2022, Black Americans comprised about 13 percent of the U.S. labor force, with Black women’s employment rate reaching a record high. Though Black women’s employment rate continues to rise, they are still shortchanged in compensation. Reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor, Black women work at a higher rate in minimum wage jobs compared to any other racial group. As Black women are underpaid, they are limited in their ability to build savings, withstand economic downturns, and maintain financial stability.
Black women continue facing barriers to health and economic stability with pay gaps. Throughout history, Black women have risen above these limitations and continue to advocate for wage parity to create wealth for their communities and families. However, Black women should not fight this battle alone. The time is now to bridge the divide and create equal opportunities to close the pay gap with actionable steps.
First, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2023 will eliminate the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act to stop pay discrimination and strengthen workplace protections for women.
Second, developing economic opportunities to empower and support equal pay for Black women is vital through commitment, hard work, and consistency toward solutions. For instance, the Center for Policy Analysis and Research at the CBCF recognizes that creating new jobs and bringing economic empowerment to minority neighborhoods is a step closer to closing the pay gap for Black women. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that Black women account for 42 percent of all women who opened a business and represented 37 percent of all Black employers. Supporting Black women-owned businesses can help close the wealth gap.
Finally, companies need to reestablish goals, strategies, and actions to improve gender pay equity. For example, it is important to provide education to Black women on negotiating salaries and benefits. Additionally, expanding opportunities for flexible schedules, childcare benefits, paid sick leave, medical leave, and family leave will help create an inclusive workplace for Black women to succeed. Many times, Black women must choose between their health and their job, limiting the opportunity for professional advancements that often result in higher wages.
As we take this time to reflect on the significance of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day and the inequality it represents, it is a perfect time to take action to bridge the pay gap and create work opportunities for Black women to thrive. Black women are the cornerstones to uplifting Black communities, and we must continue to raise awareness of the ongoing racial inequalities in wages and work in the U.S. Paying Black women equally benefits more than just Black women as well: it is essential to note the U.S. economy can genuinely thrive only when there is opportunity for everyone. There is no racial justice without economic justice.