By William E. Spriggs

Today, we commiserate Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. The gap between the earnings of black women and white men is so large that, essentially, up to today black women have been working for free. Think of it as the modern-day equivalent of the constitutional count of slaves as three-fifths of a person.

Undoubtedly, those fighting to preserve the status quo will say black women need only to get off welfare, work harder and gain more skills to achieve equal pay. This, of course, ignores the fact that a higher share of black women are employed than any other racial group.

Black women also are significantly more likely to pursue postsecondary education than their counterparts in other racial groups. The problem for black women is neither work ethic nor educational achievement. Instead, systemic barriers are preventing too many black women from turning their education into earnings, including a refusal of many companies to promote black women into management.

Another part of the problem is that black workers are far more likely to live in states that enact laws that undermine our freedom to come together and negotiate on the job. These laws originally were designed to divide black and white workers in the Jim Crow South. Today, they threaten solidarity and starve unions of precious resources.

This hurts black women directly, holding down their wages and limiting access to important benefits like employer-provided health care and pensions. This is confirmed in a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, by Asha DuMonthier, Chandra Childers and Jessica Milli, which looks at the employment and earnings, work and family, and poverty and opportunity of black women, among other things.

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