The Pay Gap Is Even Worse for Black Women, and That’s Everyone’s Problem

Reprinted with permission from the American Association of University Women.

Would you like to work seven extra months for free just to earn the same paycheck as your male co-workers? We didn’t think so. Unfortunately, if you’re a Black woman in the United States, that’s a likely reality.

Black women were paid 64 percent of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2013. That means it takes the typical Black woman nearly seven extra months—to July 28—to be paid what the average white man took home back on December 31. That’s even worse than the national pay gap for all women, 78 percent, as reported in AAUW’s report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap. Think about how that adds up in the course of a career, and we’re talking about losing a daunting chunk of change over a lifetime.

Watch a video below on how the gender pay gap effects women of color:

Industry Matters

Why is this happening? Looking at industry helps us understand some of the gap—but not all of it. Black women are more likely than women nationally to work in the lowest-paying occupations (like service, health care support, and education) and less likely to work in the higher-paying engineering and tech fields or managerial positions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the percentage of Black women who are full-time minimum-wage workers is higher than that of any other racial group. To make matters worse, there’s an even bigger pay gap in the service industry, where Black women are paid on average just 60 percent of what male servers are paid. That’s why a livable minimum wage is crucial for all women (who make up two-thirds of tipped workers), and especially Black women.

On top of being overrepresented at the low-paying end of the spectrum, Black women are underrepresented at the top. Black women make up a scant 1 percent of the high-paying engineering workforce and 3 percent of computing. And these are the fields where the gender pay gap is the smallest! Among the few who do break into these careers, discriminatory pay and promotion practices and the hostile environment drive many out.

What about education, you ask? True, education matters when it comes to increasing any group’s wages. But that doesn’t mean the gap goes away—in fact, it even widens with higher levels of education in some fields. That means that there is still a portion of the pay gap unexplained by education or chosen field. Process of elimination (and anecdotal evidence) tells us that racial discrimination is a likely culprit.

This inequity stretches to more visible fields, too, like business (Ursula Burns is still the only Black female Fortune 500 CEO) and Hollywood (none of the 10 highest-paid film actresses in 2013 were Black).

Equal Pay Helps Everyone

Diversity is a no-brainer when it comes to more productive and innovative businesses and workforces. Casting a wider net grows the talent pool with more qualified applicants. And more diverse voices in the room lead to more solutions.

Paying all workers fairly means more earners can support their families and grow the economy. Forty percent of all mothers with young children are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families—and that number is even higher among Black mothers. A fair salary can mean the difference between poverty and sustainability for a family.

What Can You Do?

  1. Get the facts and share them. The pay gap is no myth, and the more people are empowered with the data to back it up, the sooner we can close the gap.
  2. Watch and share our video on the faces we want to see on #TheNew10 bill.
  3. Urge Congress to raise the minimum wage—a move that will help all women and especially Black women, who make up a disproportionate majority of these workers.


Kathryn Bibler is an editor/writer at AAUW.