September 21 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day the average Black woman in America will finally—after nine extra months of work—catch up to the pay the average white man received in 2021.
It is my dream to see an economy that is fair, just and equitable for everyone. Imagine an economic system that is gender-parity friendly and allows Black women to have control over the economy. This economy would benefit everyone, be strong and inclusive. Today is unfortunately not such a day.
The pandemic and racial capitalism have shaped the economy, causing inequity to continue for black women and increase. On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day we commemorate systemic gender inequity faced by Black women not to establish average white male salary as the norm, but to call out the injustice in our economy—and move us to fix it.
There is much to be done. As the overall gender pay gap shrank this year, Black women—as well as Native and Latina women, whose 2022 Equal Pay Days occur in November and December, respectively—fell further behind.
Measure this against the backdrop of what’s happening in the broader economy today, and the picture gets even worse. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have the U.S. on the precipice of a recession—average Americans feel the burden of inflation, price gouging, and rising rent and mortgage costs while the top 1% benefit from unprecedented corporate profits.
This truth confirms what we all know, that our economy doesn’t work for everybody. Our economy is still dominated by the rich and people with a lot of influence. To make real progress in a multiracial, democratic and just economy, it is essential that we shift our power towards Black women.
Black women’s work has always been undervalued. Black women were not entitled to any of the wealth they created during chattel slavery. Our country’s first national labor law, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, explicitly excluded agricultural and domestic workers, a large proportion of whom were Black.
Black women continue to work under the shadow of systemic racism and slavery. Paychecks show the results. Due to occupational segregation, Black women saw a loss of $39.3 billion in their wages last year compared with white men. Black women can expect to see a loss of almost $1,000,000 over the 40-year period of working full time, as compared with a man of the same age.
This disparity has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Women have lost over 1.4 million jobs in sectors where Black women are highly represented, such as hospitality and services. Black women workers are being excluded again from the full economic recovery. They face unemployment rates that could still be considered as recessionary, even if they were extended to all workers. This burden was further compounded by the extremist Supreme Court. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationThis decision will be devastating for Black families already facing disproportionate economic hardships in the area of having and raising children.
Black women are excluded from economic security because of institutional barriers created by decades of deliberately made public policy decisions that have adversely affected Black women. To remedy these inequalities, power can be transferred from corporations to the communities. This will ensure that we make equitable policies choices that do more for society than just the bottom line.
We must increase worker power to address the economic inequalities Black women face. This should include increasing the federal minimum wage, protecting and strengthening workers’ power to organize for better wages and working conditions, and banning the use of salary history in job applications because it perpetuates economic discrimination. We should also break up and regulate unaccountable corporate behemoths, whose rising power and racialized wage discrimination threaten Black women’s economic control.
It is important to invest in the public good, such as schools, childcare, and housing. And we should establish models of co-governance that enable historically marginalized individuals to partner with their local governments to make decisions—for example, how best to use the funding made available by federal infrastructure and Inflation Reduction Act policies.
These solutions require widespread support for the policy tools available to them right now. This has not been about public will, it was a matter of political will. “Equal Pay Day” may sound like a celebration, but in reality, it is a call to action.
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