Personal Finance

Here's how the wage gap affects black women

Key Points
  • Black women are paid 61 cents for every $1 that their white male counterparts earn. Among all women, the wage gap is smaller: about 80 cents for each $1.
  • The difference over a 40-year career would mean earning about $946,000 less than their white male counterparts.
  • The disparity is present regardless of education, location and age, and it persists in both low- and high-paying positions.

Thursday marks "Equal Pay Day" for black women. It's the approximate day when their 2018 wages, plus the amount they've earned so far this year, catches up to what white men earned just last year alone.

While women overall in the U.S. earn about 80 cents for each dollar paid to men, the disparity in pay among some female minority groups is worse than among all women, according to the National Women's Law Center's analysis of 2018 Census Bureau data. Black women, for instance, get 61 cents for every $1 that their white male counterparts are paid.

The difference over a 40-year career would mean earning about $946,000 less, according to the research.

Nancy Reichman, a member of Colorado's Pay Equity Commission joins in a rally in downtown Denver, CO. Colorado citizens and activists from 9to5, National Association of Working Women and Coloradans for Fair Pay gathered on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol, to mark national Equal Pay Day.
Craig F. Walker | Denver Post | Getty Images

"No matter what their education achievement is — or whether the job is low- or high-paying, where they live or what their age is — they face a wage gap," said Maya Raghu, senior counsel and director of workplace equality at the law center.

The gender wage gap — women earning less than men — has persisted over time. And while it has improved from, say, 20 years ago, wages of black women continue to lag behind the overall gap. It's even worse for Native American and Latina women, whose Equal Pay Days won't arrive until Sept. 23 and Nov. 20, respectively.

Some of the wage gap can be attributed to personal choices — i.e., women in general are more likely to work part time and take time off over the course of their careers, often to care for their children or other family members. However, Census data show the gap is present among the nation's youngest workers as well.

Among workers in lower-wage jobs — such as cashiers, housekeepers or personal care aides — black women make 79 cents for every dollar made by white men.

The average annual salary of the 40 lowest-paying jobs is $23,600 for black women compared with $30,000 for white men. Over a 40-year career, the difference would be $256,000.

In high-salary positions — i.e., lawyers, engineers, physicians — the disparity is worse: Black women typically are paid 67 cents for every dollar paid to white men in the same occupation. That translates into $70,000 versus $105,000, and a difference over 40 years of $1.4 million.

Closing gender pay gap could take another 50 years, according to new survey
Closing gender pay gap could take another 50 years, according to new survey

"The gap affects their ability to save money and then their economic security as they get older because they haven't been able to save as much," Raghu said.

Even when broken down by education level, the gap is present.

Among doctorate degree holders, for instance, black women earn 60% of what white men do, resulting in an annual loss of nearly $49,000, or more than $1.9 million over the course of a 40-year career, the report said.

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Black women also have the highest student loan debt of any racial or ethnic group, according to the law center. For an undergraduate degree, they carry about $30,400 in debt, compared with $19,500 for white men.

Meanwhile, a congressional bill that aims to reduce the gender wage gap passed the Democrat-controlled House in March and was sent to the Senate.

Called the Paycheck Fairness Act, the measure would strengthen equal pay laws by making it easier to uncover and challenge pay discrimination. Whether it will be considered by the Senate is uncertain.

— CNBC's John Schoen contributed to this report.

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