Closing The Gap

More than 1 in 3 Black women are on the front lines of the pandemic, but they aren't even close to equal pay

Female butcher talking to customer at butcher's shop.
FG Trade | E+ | Getty Images

This year, Black Women's Equal Pay Day falls on Aug. 13, the symbolic date for how far Black women have to work into the new year to earn the same pay White men earned the previous year. 

Currently, the average woman earns $0.82 for every dollar earned by men. But, Black women, Native American women and Latinas earn $0.62, $0.57 and $0.54, respectively, for every dollar earned by White men. 

When looking at the workers who are essential in today's coronavirus crisis, more than 1 in 3 Black women are in front line jobs, according to the National Women's Law Center, including roles as personal care aides, nursing assistants, cashiers and retail salespeople. But, despite Black women playing a crucial role in today's pandemic, they are still disproportionately underpaid for their work, making it even harder for them to build a roadway to economic prosperity. 

In fact, Black women doctors, nurses, teachers, child-care workers, waitresses and cashiers are, on average, paid 11-27% less than White men who are working the same job, according to the Economic Policy Institute

Graph from the Economic Policy Institute showing the pay gap between Black women and White men in the same roles.
Economic Policy Institute
Graph from the Economic Policy Institute on the pay gap between Black women and White men in the same roles.
Economic Policy Institute
Graph from the Economic Policy Institute on the pay gap between Black women and White men working the same jobs.
Economic Policy Institute

"I think there's a lot of attention given to gender pay gaps in general and much less to the intersectional nature of the gender pay disparity for Black women, Latinas, Native American women and even for Asian-American and Pacific Islander women," Valerie Wilson, a director for the Economic Policy Institute's program on race, ethnicity and the economy, tells CNBC Make It. "You know, it's important that we understand that the gender pay gap has multiple dimensions and Black women, in particular, face dual penalty because of gender and race."

If the current pay gap for Black women remains unchanged, data from the National Women's Law Center shows that Black women could lose $941,600 over the course of a 40-year career due to pay inequality. 

Jasmine Tucker, who serves as the National Women's Law Center director of research, says the urgency to solve this problem is long overdue as the wage gap for Black women "has not changed in 25 years."

"If this is not the moment, then when is going to be the moment," she asks, while adding that this pandemic has only exposed the pay inequalities that already existed.

To move the needle on closing this gap, Tucker and Wilson say there are a few things that can be done on the policy level. For one, Tucker says the federal government needs to raise the national minimum wage, which is currently at $7.25 an hour, so that Black women in low-wage jobs can receive higher pay. And based on her policy analysis on the economic conditions of people of color, Wilson says there needs to be greater consistency in enforcing anti-discrimination laws that already exist

"There's no reason we should be observing these large disparities in pay when the law already demands that people are paid fairly for the same work," Wilson says, while emphasizing that "one of the reasons we do continue to see these gaps is because of holes in our enforcement infrastructure," including employers not being transparent about the pay of employees. 

Additionally, Tucker says, in order to prevent people from being racist and sexist in the hiring practices, we have to demand that employers publish statistics around who they are hiring and for what roles. 

"We need to demand that there's better EEO-1 data that's showing that there's no occupational segregation, that there are women of color being hired for specific jobs," she says, while referring to the Equal Employment Opportunity survey that requires employers to categorize their data by race/ethnicity, gender and job category. "We need to go beyond these companies' social media posts where they say Black lives matter, and actually hold them accountable for that, because if Black lives matter, then we need to be hiring Black women and Black men in jobs, and we have to close this wage gap."

CNBC Make It is NOW STREAMING on Peacock. Find our original programming in the Channels section.

Don't miss: How corporate America's diversity initiatives continue to fail Black women

VIDEO7:1707:17
What Covid-19 health disparities mean to six black medical professionals
make it

Stay in the loop

Sign Up

About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

CNBC.COM