Today, August 13, 2020, is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. The date was chosen because today, 225 days after the first of the year, Black women have finally earned the same amount of pay that white men earned in 2019. It has taken Black women 590 days to earn what white men earned in 365 because regardless of occupation, education, and experience, Black women are paid less than men. This disparity is the lived experience of so many Americans and must be a call to action as we demand racial and economic justice for all workers.
Wasn’t Equal Pay Day back in March?
Not all women experience pay inequality in the same way. Equal Pay Day for all women in the United States compared to all men in the United States was on March 31, 2020. Because women make 82 cents for every dollar men make, it took them 456 days for women to make the same amount of money that men made in the 365 days in 2019. However, Black women’s Equal Pay Day is nearly five months later as Black women make 62 cents per dollar earned by white men. It takes some women of color even longer to earn the same amount of pay as men. Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is on October 1st (57 cents per dollar earned by white men), and Latina Equal Pay Day is on October 29st (54 cents per dollar).
What’s the big deal?
Although a few cents here and there might not seem like much, the cumulative impact of this disparity is immense. Over her lifetime, a woman’s lost earnings add up to $700,000 for high school graduates, $1.2 million for college graduates, and $2 million for professional school graduates. These lost earnings drive up poverty rates among women, who are more likely to live in poverty than men.
And what about Black women?
Even though Black women ask for promotions and raises at about the same rates as white women, they are less likely to receive these promotions. And, sadly, the pay gap actually widens as Black women reach higher education levels, with the largest gap existing for Black women who have bachelor’s and advanced degrees. If Black women were paid fairly, the average Black woman would earn nearly $950,000 more over the course of her career. Since 80 percent of Black mothers are the main breadwinners for their households, this pay gap heavily impacts their ability to make ends meet and to get ahead.
And transgender Black women?
We can’t talk about workplace equality without also discussing how LGBTQ folks—and, in particular, transgender women of color—face some of the most significant workplace discrimination. Generally, trans women have an unemployment rate that is nearly four times the rate of the general population. Further, trans people are nearly four times more likely to have an annual household income below $10,000. These numbers increase if a trans individual is a person of color: Asian American and Latinx trans folks are six times as likely to be living in poverty compared with their cisgender counterparts. Additionally, studies have shown that the earnings of female transgender workers drop by nearly one-third after trans women begin to transition.
Together, this information confirms that transgender women of color are especially disadvantaged by pay inequity. So while we don’t yet have a Trans Women’s Equal Pay Day, it is imperative that we include and uplift trans women of color in this fight.
How do we make this better?
There is no one solution to gender pay equality. Instead, systemic social change is needed on a variety of levels. Here are some places we can start.
According to a recent study, laws that prevent employers from asking applicants about their salary history help close racial and gender wage gaps. Barring new employers from asking about salary history helps break the cycle of underpayment by preventing new employers from aligning new salaries with previous (underpaying) ones. While some states have started implementing these policies, and the Ninth Circuit recently held that employers may not use prior pay history to justify pay discrimination under the Equal Pay Act, companies should adopt a voluntary ban on asking about earning history.
Each state has its own gender pay gap, and state laws can have a significant impact on pay inequality. Contact your state lawmakers and encourage them to address gender wage issues through state laws. On the local level, encourage city and community officials to observe Equal Pay Day to get the word out.
Educate yourself and others. More than 1 in 3 Americans are not aware of the pay gap between Black women and white men, and 1 in 2 Americans are not aware of the pay gap between Black women and white women. Continuing to learn and talk about these inequalities in a critical step in this fight.
*Tamar Alexanian is a law clerk at Legal Aid at Work and currently attends the University of Michigan Law School.