It’s Time to Pay Black Women What They’re Owed


Black workers have always faced discrimination in the U.S. workforce, even as they helped to build America and provided the foundations for its economy. Today, it takes longer for Black workers to find jobs and when they do, they’re paid less than their white peers. This pay gap is especially stark for Black women, who face not only race discrimination, but also sex discrimination. Among full-time, year-round workers, Black women typically make just 67 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This wage gap costs Black women $1,891 per month, $22,692 per year and a staggering loss of $907,680 over a 40-year career.

COVID-19 dramatically shifted the labor market. For example, because low-paid workers disproportionately experienced job losses during the pandemic, there were substantially fewer people who worked full-time, year-round in 2020, and many who did work full time, year round worked in higher paying positions. Many women who previously worked in low-paid jobs remained unemployed or underemployed in 2021 and many others remained out of the labor force altogether, meaning they were not working or looking for work. As the wage gap data in this factsheet reflects 2021, it gives the appearance of a change in the wage gap for Black women but may not actually reflect economic gains.

The labor market has shifted dramatically since March 2020. Millions of jobs were lost, particularly the low-paid jobs where Black women are overrepresented, and many women left the labor force altogether. The loss of these jobs means the wage gap for full-time year-round workers in 2021 doesn’t capture the experience of the many Black women who lost jobs, were forced into part-time work, or who were pushed out of the labor force altogether during the pandemic. When we look at all workers, regardless of how many hours or weeks they worked, Black women were typically paid only 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in 2021.

Black women are still suffering from the pandemic’s economic fallout.

Unequal pay has left Black women less able than their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts to successfully weather the economic fallout of the pandemic. And data shows that economic gains in recent months have not been experienced evenly across groups by race and gender. The unemployment rate for Black women was double digits for 6 months in 2020—including a peak of 16.6% in May 2020—before finally declining. Black women’s unemployment rate was 5.9% in August 2022, but that was almost twice as high as the unemployment rate among white men last month (3.1%). In addition, over 1 in 5 unemployed Black women ages 16 and over (27.7%) have been looking for work for 6 months or more and nearly 1 in 6 Black women ages 16 and over (16.2%) working part time are doing so involuntarily, meaning they wanted to work more hours but were unable to do so.

In addition, in July 2022, analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey shows Black, non-Hispanic women were more likely than white, non-Hispanic men to have lost employment income, not have enough food to eat, and be behind on their rent:

  • Over 1 in 5 Black, non-Hispanic women (21.5%) recently reported someone in their household lost employment income in the prior 4 weeks.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 Black, non-Hispanic women (28.6%) recently reported they did not have enough to eat in the prior week.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 Black, non-Hispanic women who rent (28.1%) recently reported they were behind on the rent.

The wage gap will typically cost a Black woman over $900,000 dollars over a lifetime of work and contributes to the racial wealth gap.

The loss of thirty-three cents on the dollar experienced by Black women working full-time, year-round, adds up over a month, a year, and a lifetime. Black women lose $1,891 each month or $22,692 each year. This annual loss to the wage gap could have paid for eight months of a family’s groceries,10 eight months of child care, and eight months of rent. It could have been a lifeline for Black women and their families during the pandemic.

If the wage gap does not close, a Black woman starting her career today stands to lose a staggering $907,680 over the course of a 40-year career working full time, year round. Assuming a Black woman and her white, non-Hispanic male counterpart both begin work at age 20, the wage gap means a Black woman would have to work until she is almost 80 years old to be paid what a white, non-Hispanic man has been paid by age 60. In other words, she would have to work 5 years beyond her life expectancy in order to catch up to her white, non-Hispanic male peer’s lifetime earnings.

Unequal pay means more than Black women having less money to cover their current expenses, at a moment when every penny counts. It also has ripple effects that mean Black women miss key opportunities throughout their lifetimes to build wealth and future economic security for themselves and their families. The wage gap means many cannot save enough to afford a down payment on a home, cannot afford to pay for their own or a child’s higher education, cannot start a business or save for retirement. When combined with other structural inequities, it is no surprise, then, that white families have eight times the wealth of Black families or that single Black women own $200 in wealth for every $28,900 single white men own. White families were nearly three times more likely than Black families to receive an inheritance; Black families have little to no wealth to pass onto future generations.

Black women need action that closes the wage gap.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Black women were losing tens of thousands of dollars annually. But add to that the economic fallout of this crisis, and Black women have been placed in an impossible situation that has devastated their careers and long-term earning potential. These far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 crisis threaten to reverberate for years to come and exacerbate pre-existing racial and gender wage gaps. Black women need a recovery that centers them and their needs and that addresses our long underinvestment in economic and social infrastructure and the inadequate workplace protections that left them stranded at the intersection of racial and gender inequities laid bare by the pandemic. It’s time to pay Black women what they are owed.

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