Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is a symbolic commemoration of a stark reality: no matter which state they live in, whether they work part- or full-time, or part-year or year-round, Black women make substantially  less  than White men . This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on July 27th. While  Equal Pay Days used to be described as the day when women “caught up” to men’s earnings from the previous year, IWPR senior researcher Ariane Hegewisch explains, “Equal Pay Days do not mark  the date of catching up because the reality is that most women never catch up to the earnings of men.”

The wage gap for Black women varies drastically by state. According to IWPR’s new fact sheet, Black women workers in Louisiana face the highest wage gap compared to their White non-Hispanic male counterparts, whereas Hawaii has the lowest wage gap. In just one year in the state with the biggest absolute gap in earnings- the District of Columbia- the average gap in earnings between Black women and White non-Hispanic men amounts to a staggering $53,394 among full-time year-round workers, and $56,039 when all workers with earnings are included.

Notes: For workers 16 years and older; Black alone includes Black Latinas; White alone, not Hispanic. Full-Time is at least 35 hours per week; full-year is at least 50 weeks per year. For Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming, sample sizes were insufficient for calculating median annual earnings. N/A: Sample size insufficient to calculate full-time year-round earnings.  

Source: IWPR analysis of 2017- 2021 American Community Survey microdata (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Version 13.0). 

Occupational segregation, discrimination in hiring, recruitment, promotions, and underrepresentation in professional and managerial jobs are contributing factors to the pay inequity faced by Black women.  Black women are significantly less likely to work in good jobs in the manufacturing and construction, and much more likely to work in poorly paid service sector jobs.

For Black women pursuing higher degrees in pursuit of the promise of increased economic mobility, the harsh reality of the student debt crisis stops them and further contributes to the ever-growing wage gap. Black women have the highest average student loan debt, both caused and exacerbated by the wage gap. Due to the historical disenfranchisement of Black women and people in the United States, Black students are less likely to come from wealthy families. They are more likely to take out higher amounts of student loans. Upon graduation, the wage gap crisis prevents them from being able to pay off their student loans.

Additionally, IWPR reports that 4 out of 5 Black mothers are breadwinners, with most Black mothers raising families independently. As a result, Black mothers are more likely to contribute the lion’s share of their households’ incomes. IWPR reports that Black student mothers have the highest debt levels compared to their peers. Additionally, IWPR data shows that three-fourths of Black single-mother students say they could not come up with $2,000 within the next month.

The burden of child and elder care also often falls to Black women, who are also more likely than other women to be single parents and sole breadwinners of their households. Black mothers are less likely to have access to remote work and predictable work schedules. As a result they face added challenges accessing child care. Loss of child care can lead to loss of wages and work.

The climb to eradicate the wage gap faced by Black women is a slow one. Due to the intersectional nature of discrimination that Black women face, policymakers must push for legislation to tackle the wide range of issues that impact Black women’s lives. This includes education reform, child care access, and health care protections to name a few.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is pivotal to combatting pay discrimination and closing the wage gap. It will protect workers from retaliation for discussing pay, ban employers from inquiring about salary history, and mandate institutionalized federal pay data collection to track and expose pay discrimination based on race, gender, ability, and other factors. The bill was voted out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on July 18th, 2023, and has yet to be scheduled for floor consideration.

Additionally, unions are fundamental for improving the quality of work and worker rights for Black women. In every single state, union women out-earn women in non-union jobs, and Black women with union jobs earn substantially more per week than those not covered by a union. The Protecting Rights to Organize (PRO) Act would increase penalties for employers who retaliate against workers trying to unionize and could open the potential of collective bargaining to hundreds of thousands of workers.

Workplace protections and proactive efforts to eliminate harassment and discrimination are essential to addressing the wage gap for Black women who are incredibly vulnerable to those realities. Paid leave, earned sick time, and investment in affordable quality childcare, adult, and eldercare are vital steps to move toward pay equity. On a local and state level, governors and state officials must work to ensure that the historic infrastructure investments from the Infrastructure and Jobs Act lead to high-paying jobs for Black women through intentional interventions to address the underrepresentation of Black women in quality jobs supported by federal investment.

Black women’s Equal Pay Day serves as a sad annual reminder of the ongoing wage gap suffered by Black women and all the work that remains to address this discrimination. We know what needs to be done; it is imperative that policymakers and business leaders prioritize the policies we know help close the pay gap.