Each year, somewhere between late winter and early spring, the country highlights the gender-based pay disparities in our current workforce. For more than a quarter-century, Equal Pay Day has served as a reminder that women must work harder and longer to earn what a man did in the previous year. And while this year’s celebration on March 15 was the earliest the country has ever marked the occasion, for Black women, Indigenous women, Latino women — progress doesn’t look like progress at all.
On Wednesday, September 21, the country will mark Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, a little over 6 months after the date dedicated to underlining the gender pay gap for “all” American women and three days after countries around the world recognized the injustices faced by women all across the globe. This is based on ACS Census data that suggests in 2021, Black women made just 58 cents for each dollar non-Hispanic white men made.
Last year Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was marked on August 3rd. In 2020, August 13. And in 2019, August 22. While strides have been made to bring more equity into the corporate landscape, this year’s date underscores just how damaging the last two-plus years of the pandemic have been.
Pushing the needle forward has always been particularly challenging for certain segments of the population, and these hurdles have been substantiated through numerous studies. A recent example of which shows that over 50 percent of Black and Latinx women struggled to make ends meet during the reign of the pandemic.
“Even before the pandemic, unequal pay, workplace discrimination, and a lack of affordable childcare put women at a financial disadvantage—all of which is heightened for women of color,” says Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates who conducted the recent study. “These community responses confirm what we’ve all suspected. The pandemic exacerbated all of these issues, and while white men, as well as higher-earning white women, are returning to some form of normalcy, low-to-middle income Black and Latinx breadwinners have been set years behind in their careers and financial goals.”
Lawmakers and the White House, though slow to act, continue to pay attention to what the pay gap means for the country at large. In March President Biden called pay inequity “a matter of justice, fairness, and dignity — it is about living up to our values and who we are as a Nation.” And last week, the California legislature presented Gov. Newsom with a pay equity bill that will make The Golden State the third state in the U.S. after New York and Colorado, to require all employers based in or hiring in the state to post salary ranges on all job listings. Companies with more than 100 employees must also show the median gender of their employees and any pay gaps that persist. The passage of SB 1162 Pay Transparency for Pay Equity Act in California is a huge step toward pay transparency and is expected to aid in equal pay for women and people of color.
The move comes late, but at a very necessary time. A new poll by NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that while the nation, as a whole, is reeling from inflation, Black Americans are substantially more likely than whites to report they are currently having serious financial problems — 55 percent compared to 38 percent. Black adults are also reportedly facing more serious issues across several areas compared to white Americans. This includes not having emergency savings, experiencing food insecurity, and having trouble paying rent.
“For our communities, inflation has always been,” says Alica Garza, founder of Black Futures Lab, the administrator of the Black Census. “Rent has always been too damn high. The cost has always been too damn high, and the wages have always been too damn low.”
It’s why even outside of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day there’s an ongoing effort to not only bring awareness to the inequitable wages and treatment of Black women in the workforce, but to also demand policy changes to help close the gap. “With a global pandemic that essentially completely interrupted and reorganized our economy, Black folks found ourselves even further towards the bottom than we were pre COVID times,” Garza tells EBONY. “And so it's not just inflation that we want to be dealt with and addressed with robust policy proposals, but we want to see wage increases.”
Equal pay advocates are hoping that time comes sooner rather than later. As Biden remarked during the March recognition of Women’s Equal Pay Day, “While we should celebrate the progress we have made, as I have said in the past, we should not be satisfied until Equal Pay Day is no longer necessary at all.”