By Kenrya Rankin

In 1937, Zora Neal Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” made it plain that Black women are the mules of the world. A new study says that, in America at least, nothing has changed.

The Status of Black Women in the United States” is the result of a collaboration between the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). Released Wednesday (June 7), it draws on data from nonprofits and federal agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, to get a picture of Black women nationwide. The data is used to explore six areas that the study’s authors feel impact the lives of women: employment and earnings, health and well-being, political participation, poverty and opportunity, violence and safety, and work and family.

Key findings include:

  • Black women vote a higher rates than all other groups of men and women in America, but they are underrepresented at every level of state and federal political office in America.
  • More than 62 percent of Black women work, making them the only group of women with a higher workforce participation rate than their male counterparts. Yet with median annual earnings of $34,000 for full-time, year-round work, Black women earn less than almost every other group in the nation.
  • About 28 percent of Black women with jobs work in service roles, which have the lowest wages overall. And in all but two states, the average cost of childcare is more than 20 percent of median annual earnings for Black women, making it hard to afford quality care.
  • In 2014, Black women were twice a likely to be imprisoned as their White counterparts; that multiple jumps to four when considering women ages 18 and 19.
  • Black women experience poverty at higher rates than all women in this country except Native Americans.


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