Since the start of COVID-19, women have been hit hard by the pandemic-fueled “she-cession,” which has exacerbated existing inequities and increased economic insecurity among women. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s new policy brief uses 2019 data to provide a baseline for women’s employment and earnings, ranking all 50 states and the District of Columbia on four indicators: women’s earnings, the gender wage gap, women’s participation in the labor force, and women’s representation in managerial and professional occupations. In this Employment and Earnings Index, the District of Columbia received the only “A” grade, ranking first in three of the four component indicators.
To paint a more comprehensive picture of women’s employment and earnings in the District of Columbia, however, we must consider the city’s racial and ethnic diversity: 42.3 percent of the city’s population is White, 43.9 percent is Black, and 12.2 percent identify as Hispanic or Latina/o. Black and Latina women who reside in DC do not have the same experiences and opportunities as White women. While the city ranks at or near the top on each of the four parts of the Employment and Earnings Index, it still has work to do to improve the economic status and security of all women.
In 2019, Black and Latina women in the United States earned less on average (just over $41,000 and $36,100 per year, respectively), compared to White women (on average earning over $51,000 annually). They also faced a larger wage gap; it would take Black women 109 years and Latina women 199 years to reach equal pay with White men.
These patterns hold true in DC. While women in DC had the highest median annual earnings among all women throughout the United States ($72,000 in 2019), Black and Latina women in DC have been earning much less. Between 2014 and 2018, Black women in DC earned $52,312 and Latina women earned $55,000 on average annually. This translates into a much larger wage gap in DC compared to the rest of the country. In those same years, Black women earned 52.3 percent and Latina women earned 55 percent of White men’s annual earnings, respectively, compared to White women who in 2019 earned 78.7 percent of White men’s earnings.
In IWPR’s Poverty and Opportunity Index, DC ranks 51st for women’s poverty, with 26.7 percent of women living below the poverty line. Therefore, while many women in DC are doing very well when it comes to employment and earnings, a significant wage gap remains. DC’s median earnings for women are skewed by the extremely high earnings of women in well-paid occupations—positions that are more likely to be filled by White women.
These statistics provide a snapshot of what women’s lives looked like before 2020, and so we must also consider the economic instability many Black and Latina women have experienced since the pandemic began. Across the United States, Black and Latina women were most likely to be working in the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, including in many customer-facing occupations. Moreover, they tended to earn less than White women in these jobs. In 2020, the median weekly earnings for full-time workers in service occupations in the U.S. was $535 for Latinas and $551 for Black women, compared to $594 for White women and $797 for White men. The challenges facing Black and Latina women nationally are likely elevated in DC, a city with substantial racial and ethnic diversity—and inequality.
During the pandemic, many women were put in the difficult position of having to balance increased family caregiving demands—as schools and child care centers closed—with their day jobs. Yet, Black and Latina women were less likely to have the option to work from home when the pandemic began. Of all workers with the option to work remotely, only 21 percent were Black and 17 percent were Latina/o, leaving many women without child care and with the impossible decision of caring for their children versus providing basic necessities for themselves and their families. Even those who could secure a spot in an open child care center may not have been able to afford it. In DC, the average annual cost of full-time infant center-based child care is over $24,000, a burden that is out of reach for many families.
The District of Columbia has several important worker-friendly policies, such as paid family and medical leave and a minimum wage that will increase to $15.20 per hour on July 1. However, DC must ensure all women have access to employment and other economic opportunities—not just White women. Despite DC’s consistently high rankings on IWPR’s Status of Women in the States Employment and Earnings Index, the city must continue to work toward providing a more equitable economic landscape for Black and Latina women.