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Today’s the Day Black Women Workers Catch up to White Men’s 2016 Earnings

Auditi Guha

“At a time when equal pay for equal work is more than twice as popular as President Trump, you would think Congress would do everything it could to promote and support it—not kill it."

Priscilla Smith works a late shift, five days a week, as a home care worker in North Carolina. She takes the bus to work at 2:30 p.m. and cares for as many as 20 people a day, often not getting home until midnight.

After five years on the job, she now draws $12 per hour with no paid sick or vacation leave. That’s a challenge for a Black woman and a mother of four, one of whom with special needs, she told Rewire on #BlackWomensEqualPay Day.

A leader with We Dream in Black, a program of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), Smith, 40, said she spoke out because the work she does is not valued—not by her employers, not by her patients’ families, nor by the world we live in.

“The majority of people who do this kind of work are African-American or Latino women,” she said. “The world needs to wake up and understand that Black workers need to be acknowledged, respected, and honored for their work.”

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Black women like Smith came together with workers’ rights organizations to shine a light on the wage gap on July 31, which represents the day a Black woman’s wages catch up to the amount her white male counterpart made the previous year.

More than 60 percent of Black women are part of the U.S. workforce. Despite their high participation rate, Black women’s earnings lag behind all other men’s and women’s salaries, according to The Status of Black Womena report produced last month by NDWA and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Black women who worked full-time earn 64 cents to the dollar a white man makes. In Louisiana, the state with the largest gap, Black women drew less than half of white men’s earnings, the report states.

More than one-third of Black women are in the bottom earnings quartile, while only 12.4 percent are in the top quartile. Black women experience higher unemployment, have less job security, and enjoy fewer benefits and advancement opportunities, according to the report.

Black women also work more hours than white women, and half of Black female workers are mothers, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Black single mothers in 2015 logged 1,589 hours drawing $15.10 per hour, while white single mothers put in 1,541 hours at $17.44 per hour. Black married women worked 1,928 hours earning $23.43 per hour, as opposed to 1,727 hours worked by white married women drawing an hourly wage of $26.29, according to EPI data.

The NDWA called for transparency and an end to secrecy around pay practices that allow race and gender wage gaps to persist. Data collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor makes the pay gap clear to legislators, but that data collection is at risk under the Trump administration.

Last week the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a budget amendment that would defund an Obama-era initiative to make pay more transparent, a policy that is especially necessary for women of color to identify when they are being paid less than their white male counterparts.

“This is an unacceptable and deliberate attack on women in the workplace, especially Black and Hispanic women who are currently paid only 63 cents and 54 cents to the dollar white men are paid, respectively,” Tracy Sturdivant, executive director at Make It Work, said in a statement. “At a time when equal pay for equal work is more than twice as popular as President Trump, you would think Congress would do everything it could to promote and support itnot kill it. We condemn the House’s decision to defund equal pay protections and demand our representatives kill this amendment on the floor.”

Smith, who has worked jobs ranging from hair to housekeeping, said Black women have to work twice as hard and have to constantly prove themselves. “We are not just complaining,” she said. “It’s deserved.”

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