BLACK VOICES
08/23/2016 10:15 am ET Updated Aug 23, 2016

America's Pay Gap Could Cost Black Women More Than $1 Million

African American Women’s Equal Pay Day is as necessary as ever.

Every April, Equal Pay Day is widely talked about, and rightly so. Women in the United States earn just 79 cents for every dollar men make, and observing a date that shows exactly how many months, weeks, and days women must work into a new year to catch up to what men earned the previous year is important. No matter what the pay gap deniers say.

But that April date only tells a part of a larger story. August 23, 2016 is African American Women’s Equal Pay Day ― the day when black women finally catch up to white men’s pay from the last year. It’s a staggering fact. On average, black women in this country must work almost eight more months to simply earn what white man earned by last December 31st. Black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar white men earn. For white women, it's 78 cents

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In observance of African American Women’s Equal Pay Day, here are four basics everyone should know about when it comes to race, gender and equal pay. 

The pay gap costs black women $877,480 over their careers.

According to a recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) a black woman starting her career today (and working full-time, year round) will lose an average of $877,480 over her 40-year career, relative to a white man. In six states (New Jersey, Louisiana, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Washington D.C.) black women stand to lose more than $1 million over the course of their careers.  

“African American women shouldn’t need to work more than 66 years to earn what a white man earns in 40 years,” Emily Martin, the NWLC’s vice president for workplace justice said in a statement. 

It applies to women in all fields.

As the NWLC puts it: “In a wide variety of occupations ― those that are well-paid and poorly paid, those that are female-dominated and those that are non-traditional for women ― African American women working full time, year round make less than white, non-Hispanic men.”

That goes for doctors, it goes for women in construction, it goes for women who in service, and so on. It doesn’t matter if the field is high-earning or low-earning, or if it is male-dominated or female-dominated. Black women in just about any field earn less. 

Higher education isn’t the silver bullet.

One way people tend to dismiss the pay gap is to argue that women of color are less likely to have a college degree, so they can’t expect to earn the same. But as the NWLC points out, black women who are highly educated still face a gap. Those who have a bachelor’s degree or beyond (master’s, PhD, etc.) make around what a white men who attended some college but never graduated earns.

Per year, black women with a bachelor’s degree typically earn just $1,849 more than white men with just a high school diploma. Broken down, that means a black woman who has graduated from college will make only about about 6 cents more for every dollar earned by a white man who never attended college.

The “why” is complicated...and it also isn’t complicated at all.

There are several measurable reasons why black women face a pronounced pay gap. As the American Association of University Women points out, black women are more likely to work in the lowest-paying fields, including health care support and service. Women of color also tend to work shorter hours, not necessarily out of desire, but because they are balancing the dual demands of family and work ― often without essentials like access to paid sick leave days. But overall, about 40 percent of the gender pay gap is simply “unexplained,” which makes it sound somewhat mysterious and complex.

For black women, however, much of that explanation is simple: Discrimination. 

CLARIFICATION: A heading in an earlier version of this article misstated the $877,480 figure as an annual loss. It was reported correctly elsewhere in the article.

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