The COVID-19 pandemic and related recession has both highlighted the persistent inequalities that Black women face in the labor market and exacerbated them. Black women were overrepresented in many low-paying jobs that were recognized as “essential” during the pandemic, but had often been dismissed as “low-skilled” before. Despite this recognition, these jobs continue to be undervalued with low wages and few benefits.
Before the pandemic, Black women were paid just 63.0 percent of White men’s median annual earnings—$24,110 less—even when they were able to obtain full-time year-round work. That represents a wage gap of 37.0 percent for Black women and White men and is much larger than the 17.7 percent wage gap between all women and all men. This illustrates the additional impact of race in shaping women’s earnings. It also means higher rates of poverty, much lower levels of wealth, and fewer resources to weather economic downturns such as the COVID-19 recession.
If changes in the earnings ratio for Black women and White men continues at the same pace as it has since the mid-1980s, it will take Black women more than another hundred years—until 2133—to reach pay equity with White men. Indeed, pay equity for Black women may have become even more elusive; the gender wage gap between Black women and White men was larger in 2019 (37.0 percent; a gender earnings ratio of 63.0 percent) than in four of the previous ten years. The wage gap has not substantially improved even as Black women’s rate of college-level education has increased at a faster pace than White men’s.